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Wednesday, 7 June 1989
Page: 3531

Senator COLLINS —I ask the Minister representing the Minister for Community Services and Health whether he has seen recent articles in the Sydney Morning Herald indicating that general practitioners (GPs) have indicated that they will increase their fees by $5 a consultation from 1 August. Is the Minister concerned about this development and, if so, what discussions have taken place to resolve it?

Senator COOK —I have seen the reports in the Sydney Morning Herald referred to by Senator Collins. The new general practitioner fee arrangements are designed to provide incentives for general practitioners to take part in continuing medical education to ensure that they maintain and improve their skills. The aim is for doctors to be rewarded for their efforts in undertaking general practice training, just as they are for physician or surgical training.

It needs to be remembered that, under the proposal, no GP will be disadvantaged and no GP will be worse off. Current items will remain in the schedule for those doctors who choose either not to register or who are ineligible. However, some 90 per cent of general practitioners, both full time and part time, will be automatically eligible and, if they register, they will be able to use a new higher set of GP fees and rebates. In return, they will need to take part in continuing medical education and quality assurance programs. The Government believes that this will result in better trained general practitioners generally who will provide better quality patient care.

However, if this were blocked, general practitioners and their patients would be deprived of $136m in increased Medicare rebates. I believe that the Opposition and the Australian Democrats need to be aware that they will be held responsible if the vast majority of GPs are deprived of fee and rebate increases equivalent to $15,000 a year in the case of GPs. As well, the 5 per cent across the board increase to most fees and rebates, including all specialist items, could not proceed from 1 August as planned because of the disorder created by those in the Opposition ranks. Let me quote yesterday's news release from Dr Peter Doyle of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners on how general practitioners will need to increase their fees by at least $5 from 1 August if legislation is not passed. These are his words:

The options facing general practitioners are either to absorb cost increases, which means lower incomes, or charge patients more. Those most at risk are pensioners and the socially disadvantaged patients, whom doctors have traditionally treated at a significant discount for many years.

Failure to pass the legislation will make it increasingly difficult for GPs to provide adequate care to this important group at an affordable price.