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Obstetric services and the Medicare safety net.

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MEDIA RELEASE Minister for Health and Ageing

Tony Abbott MHR

31 August 2004 ABB143/04


The Commonwealth Government has been working closely with the AMA and obstetricians to ensure that the Medicare safety net operates as intended to protect patients from high out of pocket costs for Medicare services provided outside hospital.

Speculation that doctors have been inflating their fees since the introduction of the safety net is false. However, close examination of charging practices before and after the introduction of the safety net suggests that some obstetric charges previously outside the Medicare system are being included in consultation fees. Total fees to patients have not risen but some doctors have changed their charging practices to enable patients to maximise their safety net benefits.

At present, the Medicare schedule does not reflect the way a pregnancy is managed during the ante-natal period because many obstetricians charge a generalised fee associated with all aspects of care during pregnancy, including patient management and planning.

After discussion with the AMA and the obstetricians, the Government will introduce a new planning and management item for obstetric services. This item, to be claimed once after the patient's pregnancy has reached 20 weeks, recognises the support services provided by an

obstetrician for the duration of a pregnancy up to the date of delivery. A Medicare schedule fee of $110 will apply.

The Health Insurance Commission will shortly write to all doctors providing clear information about billing practices and will monitor billing to ensure this advice is clearly understood and applied. The same rules will apply to all areas of medical practice.

The safety net is the most important and beneficial change to Medicare since it began. The safety net is expected to provide higher Medicare rebates to more than one million people this year. It is already helping 650 000 Australians who have high medical expenses.

These people will be left high and dry by Labor which has repeatedly pledged to abolish the safety net.

Media contact: Kate Jordan, 0417 425 227