Government Threats to Withdraw Medicare – 14 June 2001

Media reports of federal government proposals to withhold Medicare rebates from patients whose doctor exceeded a government fixed fee is a clear example of Dr Michael Wooldridge’s willingness to hurt patients in order to score political points by attacking doctors, said Mr Stephen Milgate, Executive Director of the Australian Doctors’ Fund.

“Threatening to cut off Medicare from doctors is in reality threatening to withdraw Medicare rebates from patients who visit doctors who do not comply with health fund determined fees. If progressed it would mean that patients who wanted to be treated by a doctor who charged above the fixed fee would be excluded from obtaining a Medicare rebate despite paying their Medicare levy.”

“This proposal is part of Dr Wooldridge’s re-election campaign strategy which includes a direct attack on the medical profession on the premise that he is taking on the tall poppies,” said Mr Milgate.

“The proposal is part of a co-ordinated $15 million campaign to force doctors to comply with health fund determined fees, and for GPs to refer patients to health fund compliant doctors (preferred providers).”

“We totally reject the Minister’s claims that private doctors are not giving informed financial consent to their patients. In the 11 years I have worked with doctors I have never met a private doctor who personally, or through their staff, did not spend time with their patients explaining the costs of their surgery.”

“There are over 40 different health funds in Australia. Do we expect a doctor to be an expert in all health fund rebate tables, their exclusions, their excesses, and their co-payments plus all costs patients are likely to incur in hospital for all procedures and interventions together with the costs of other doctors involved in the treatment? Do we want doctors to wake up patients in the operating theatre and get their financial consent before proceeding with an unforeseen procedure?”

“The whole idea that there is an epidemic of non-information about costs is a pre-election stunt. Dr Wooldridge is creating a problem he knows does not exist in order to claim victory for solving it,” said Mr Milgate.

The Private Health Insurance Ombudsman does not even register informed financial consent as an issue. Of 1875 complaints received in 1999/2000, 1739 related to health funds.

“With over 200 million transactions between doctors and patients per annum you will expect the occasional misunderstanding.”

“Without $15 million of taxpayers funds to match the government’s campaign, doctors will have to rely on directly informing their patients as to the effects of the government’s latest proposal,” Mr Milgate said.