Federal Government’s “Closing The Gap” Campaign Blatant Electoral Advertising – 1 June 2001

The forthcoming $15 million advertising blitz entitled “Closing the Gap” is electoral advertising and not health care information, Executive Director of the Australian Doctors’ Fund, Mr Stephen Milgate, said in Sydney today.

“The private health funds are more than capable of writing to their own members about any aspect of private health cover and yet we see the Howard government prepared to spend $15 million of taxpayers money (including the taxes of the 55% of Australians who do not have private health cover) in an attempt to turn around the opinion polls,” said Mr Milgate.

Federal legislation, now allows health funds to pay above Medicare schedule rebates to patients, where a doctor participates in a gap cover scheme.

Many doctors have been reluctant to participate in any scheme controlled by health funds for a variety of reasons including the belief that financial control by health funds is not in the patients best interest and is the precursor to clinical control by health funds, known as managed health care.

Mr Milgate said, “Doctors want to retain their right to charge their own fees and to value their own services in line with the aspirations of any independent professional. Australian doctors are modest in their charges by international comparisons. Many private specialists work in the public hospital system (Visiting Medical Officers) for modest rates or for nothing (Honorary) to provide a public service.”

“Doctors know that to stay financially viable and to pay reasonable salaries to their staff and to provide a reasonable service they must retain the ability to price their own services.”

“Like the rest of the community doctors need to be rewarded for their investment in study and professional development.”

“Fee fixing schemes are of particular concern in an environment of escalating medical defence costs which are likely to worsen with the recent collapse of HIH insurance.”

An equally concerning development in this campaign is the push by health funds for patients to obtain referrals to health fund preferred providers. In a recent issue of Medibank Private’s feelbetter magazine the health fund advised its members to “Ask your general practitioner if he/she is able to refer you to a specialist who uses GapCover”.

“The federal government’s $15 million campaign conveniently ignores the fact that around 50% of all health fund policies include an upfront health fund gap of between $500 to $1000 out-of-pocket which is a built in deterrent to using private health insurance.”

“Patients should beware of any professional who uses price and not quality of service as a means of obtaining business. In medicine, as in the airline industry, the sad reality is that safety and quality cost money and must be paid for and cheaper is often more expensive”, said Mr Milgate.