Fast Medicine puts your health at risk! Is this fair?
Can you imagine if your boss told you “Your wages will be frozen for the next 4 years and your hours will be cut by 20%” while the cost of electricity, groceries and other living will continue to increase by 3% p.a. (Breaking news: It was announced on the 17th June 2014 GP’s may receive, not applicable to all doctors, a once off 2% increase commencing 1st July 2014, this is not in line with the 1st July 2014 3% Federal Award wage increase and 0.25% to 9.5% employer super increase).
The reality is this has happened to your local GP, if you have not been paying a gap at each visit.
In 2013 Medicare rebates to your local GP were frozen. The 2014 Federal budget has proposed to freeze them again in 2014 with significant cuts in later years. The trend is not to ever increase them again in line with inflation regardless of the Budget.
To keep your healthcare “free” one option is for your GP to spend even less time to keep up with their practice overheads. This will simply put your health at risk as it increases the chances they will miss something. It would be irresponsible to keep bulk billing patients as this will hurt the quality of care you deserve.
What would you do?
Would you significantly cut home expenses e.g. food and housing, school education for your kids? Ask for a pay rise regardless? Risk being sack as you do more for less knowing you may have to cut corners which may affect the quality of your work? Change jobs or consider retiring early? Are you prepared to work harder for less pay, simply to make ends meet? Alternatively, would you ask if there is a better way to deal with these unprecedented changes?
The recent budget announcement for GP’s, is like losing 20% of your wage overnight while trying to meet unsustainably rising costs and patient expectations. Your GP is forced to draw a line in the sand. The question we all have to ask is “Do we really care about the quality of care we receive?”
Does it bother you that your GP has to work so fast, that they may in fact miss something important in order to protect you from a $7 gap today? What they are really trying to do is save you the $700 each day that it costs in hospital for preventable life style diseases. Furthermore, they are trying to save you from lost time at work and or away from your family or people you care about.
So how much do you value your health compared to, say a chocolate muffin and coffee that could kill you? Paying the same $7 to your GP would enable them to provide timely healthcare advice. This could in fact save your life. This is a small speeding ticket to pay so you can live a healthy and happy life.
Do you make your healthcare an equal if more important priority as earning a weekly wage? After all you cannot spend any money if you are ill or no longer alive to enjoy it.
How should practices respond?
Amid the predictable hysteria surrounding the patient co-payment debate the most vital point seems to be ignored. By introducing any kind of out of pocket or gap payments to patients, patient’s will automatically become more discerning of your services. Cutting cost will ultimately affect the quality of your services and increase your medico legal risks. Faster medicine is not an option; you will miss something important and everyone loses especially your patient.
With Medicare Benefits Schedule rebate values remaining frozen at 2012 levels, seemingly indefinitely, those beginning to worry and devise plans ahead of the likely impacts of the latest MBS policy direction are already way behind the game.
Regardless of the political arguments around patient co-payments, or indeed the colour of the government of the day, the reality is that the MBS cannot adequately cover the costs of quality patient care. Nor does it not come close to representing a sustainable practice income source.
The MBS is not pining for the fjords – it is an ex-parrot.
Bulk billing practices have been feeling the pinch for years with many having already fallen by the wayside. It is like suffering from chronic renal failure. With private billing clinics now starting to follow suit, practice owners are realising the need to rethink their practice future and are asking themselves some tough questions.
Key among these for GPs are: am I prepared to make the hard decisions necessary to stay in the evolving game, or is it time to get out and focus on treating patients instead?
Four important questions to ask
There is a way to stay in the game and thrive – it starts with taking a step back to consider the big picture and what is truly at stake. Ask yourself:
1. Am I a greedy doctor or is my practice being taken advantage of?
Do not immediately assume patients will not pay more for your service. Share and see the latest results of patient poll
There will of course always be patients in genuine need of compassionate financial consideration. But too many doctors are too easily swayed into extending bulk billing or lower fees to those capable of affording their services. For many Australians, health is simply not enough of a priority within their household budgeting.
Reviewing your fee structures and service models that can ensure it is fair for both you and your patients while delivering long-term sustainability and potential for growth. Examples include charging for consumables and introducing a nurse led body mass index clinic.
Patients who pay become more discerning. Practices need to determine whether their patients adequately value the services being provided to them. If the answer is no, then the problem is usually a failure of communication. Broadening patient interaction options through online appointments, telephone messages on hold, improving your website and social media are simple way GPs are attempting to ensure a better patient engagement.
3. Is my practice obese?
Many practices carry too much fat as the result of inefficient systems. Cloud accounting and other innovative IT solutions can not only streamline your processes but also help to achieve savings in the short and long term by up to 40% per annum on key overheads. Other options include ethical staff salary sacrifice or productivity arrangements.
4. Is it time for a restructure?
Many practices are already realising the benefits of moving doctors away from contractor arrangements attracting super, payroll tax and unnecessary employment obligations. Clearly if none of the above ideas are an option, considering amalgamating your practice or early retirement is all that may be left.
The take-home here is that GPs or any healthcare provider already thinking and planning around important elements like those above are those that will continue to reap the rewards. Patient co-payments are not a nail in the coffin for bulk billing but instead a timely wake up call for those trying to convince themselves that a dead business model can still work for them.
Recently our concerns have been expressed on the front page of the National Medical Observer that is read by over 40,000 doctors per week:
For more information see these articles
1. See the results of our latest patient poll
At the end of the day your doctor is not greedy. This issue is something you need to raise with your local member that represents you in the Federal Government. We hope this article goes some way to explaining why practice fees must go up and become more efficient. It is in everyone’s interest.