FEDERAL BUDGET 2017-18

The Medicare rebate defrost arrives

After a four year freeze on Medicare rebates, any thawing will no doubt be welcomed by GPs and specialists. However, as practices across Australia crunch the numbers, it will quickly become clear the rebate defrost will not significantly add to the bottom line. It is, however, a sign of recognition from the Government that practices have been under significant cost pressures and that some relief is well overdue.

It is also a kind of peace offering from the Government as it seeks to pursue greater efficiencies in primary healthcare and to smooth out anomalies in claims. For practices there is a clear signal from the Government that the time is now to ensure that record keeping and billing procedures are all in good order.

The Government is rolling out a program of data analytics across the primary healthcare sector. Utilising big data will allow the Government to scrutinise billing and claims patterns across thousands of practices with a high degree of accuracy. Private billing amounts are expected to be at the top of the Government’s agenda.

The increasing use of data analytics is just one aspect of a broader policy initiative from the Government to utilise the power of big data to drive increased service efficiency. As part of this, the Government will also be looking for support from medical practitioners as its online My Health Record transitions from an opt-in model to opt-out.

The Government’s new model of providing $5,000 per year in funding for managing the health of patients with chronic disease presents another challenge to the efficiency of practices.  Given the current lack of clarity about how this scheme will be administered, it is difficult for practices to formulate a detailed plan for how to deliver healthcare under this model. There appears to be a strong possibility that the allocated $5,000 will not be enough to cover the full care of some patients with significant chronic disease issues.

Given the increased attention the Government will be applying to primary healthcare providers, the lead up to the end of the financial year provides a good opportunity for practices to review procedures and processes. One option that may be worth considering is taking advantage of the Government’s extension of the $20,000 capital assets write-off for small business to upgrade computer systems or software.

The challenge for many practices will be finding the time to undertake strategic or administrative planning while also managing a busy patient load. Given the Government’s determination to place primary healthcare under the microscope it is an investment that is well worth making.