The GP co-payment may be ‘dead, buried and cremated’ but controversy over its primary health care policies is not over for the Abbott Government. The introduction of private health insurance into the primary health care sector was flagged by previous Minister for Health Peter Dutton in a number of speeches and media interviews and was also recommended by the Competition Policy Review.
While the exact role the Government has mind for PHI in primary health care is not clear, both BUPA and Medibank have already started to expand their activities in this sector. However, this move has been criticised by a number of groups within the health sector, including the Nurses and Midwives Association of NSW which wrote to Dutton last year, stating that keeping PHI out of primary health care had successfully “contained costs and supported equity in access for GP care”. The AMA has also warned that the Medibank Private trial could undermine the clinical autonomy of GPs and erode equity of access for consumers.
The following article by Amanda Biggs from the Parliamentary Library, provides useful context for the current debate and an excellent analysis the policy implications of a role of PHI in primary health care. If Health Minister Sussan Ley wishes to neutralise Medicare as an election issue she should pay close attention to Biggs’ concluding statements about the significant challenges involved for the Government in progressing this policy.
This article first appeared in the Parliamentary Library’s Flagpost publication and is re-published here in full, with permission.
While the Government’s proposed patient co-payment for GP services has focused debate on whether some kind of ‘price signal’ for GP services is needed, private health insurers have been exploring options to provide their members with free or expedited access to GPs. Under current legislation, health insurers cannot provide insurance for which a Medicare benefit is payable. Despite these legislative restrictions, Medibank Private and other health insurers have been trialling different approaches to improve access to GP services for their members.READ MORE