GPs bemoan changes to cardiac test rebates

Proposed changes to the Medicare Benefits Schedule aimed at preventing doctors from ordering unnecessary tests will have a knock-on effect for rural areas like the Snowy Valleys, requiring ECGs to be read by specialists rather than local General Practitioners (GPs).
As of August 1, “GPs will be restricted in their ability to access payments for specific heart monitoring services,” explained Jennie Fischer, Practice Manager for the Tumut Family Medical Centre.
“This means that for a GP to provide an ECG and report for a patient, the rebate will drop from $27.45 to $19.
“It could be argued that the previous rebate did not really reflect the time and resources required for the service, but for it to drop even further will have significant consequences.”
Mrs Fischer said it’s likely that if the change is legislated, patients will have to be referred to the Tumut Hospital for ECGs. Without regular doctors at the hospital, the hospital would have to call a specialist in Wagga or an on-call doctor or ‘Visiting Medical Officer’. The VMOs are the local GPs anyway, so the change will potentially just delay the ECG with the same doctor reading and interpreting its results.
In some cases, Mrs Fischer said the added time and complications could have life and death consequences. She was confident that local doctors will continue to do the right thing by their patients in severe circumstances, whether they’re properly reimbursed or not. Although doctors will still have the training and authority to interpret ECGs, they won’t have access to the rebate for their services. She said the change doesn’t make sense for rural areas where specialists aren’t readily available.
The other alternative might be that doctors have to privately bill patients “for an essential service that should be part of standard primary care.”
Mrs Fischer didn’t think that local doctors had been misusing the ability to read and interpret ECGs, but said it’s possible there are doctors in Australia who were “overserving” their clients, by ordering tests that weren’t truly necessary. For a “paltry” $27 reimbursement, she said it wasn’t likely.
The changes have been flagged to start on August 1, but Mrs Fischer said with the deferral of the next sitting of federal parliament, it’s possible the changes will also be delayed.
– Katie Quinn