AMA rejects PM's health system changes as poorly designed

THE Australian Medical Association says the government's push to revitalise the nation's health system was poorly designed and could create even greater demand for more expensive health services in the future.

The peak-medical body claims controversial measures, announced in this year's budget, were driven by ideology and made no attempt to refine and shape the Australian health care system to cope with future demands.

The AMA, in its submission to a Senate inquiry into out-of-pocket costs in Australian health care on Tuesday, argued the $5 cut to rebates for private patients, the $7 co-payment for bulk-billed patients plus changes to the Medicare Safety Net and the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme will cost about $8.4 billion in the next four years.

AMA president Associate Professor Brian Owler said there was no financial reason to make such dramatic and experimental changes to the structure of health care financing in Australia.

"The government's proposed model of co-payments, coupled with across the board rebate reductions, poor safety nets for the vulnerable and those with chronic disease and significant reductions to public hospital funding are too harsh," he said.

"It will have as yet unexplored consequences for the health of the nation and the downstream impacts on health care costs.

"The AMA recognises thought must be given to the long-term sustainability of the healthcare system, but we should take the time to properly design that system to avoid unfair and perverse outcomes."

The National Rural Health Alliance, in its submission, said the average out-of-pocket cost per service is 10% higher for people in regional areas than in the major cities.

"If Australia's universal healthcare system is to work fairly it must include the means to ensure that out-of-pocket costs do not work to limit people's ability to access primary care," the submission said.

"The best hopes for this are through greater support for those health professionals already in rural and remote areas, achieving a better national distribution of the health workforce, boosting patient travel and accommodation schemes and through the MBS and PBS safety nets."

The committee is required to deliver their report before August 8.

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