5CS program interview with Ben Harris on changes to the Medicare rebate scheme

Station: 5CS
Program: Breakfast
Date: 8/6/2021
Time: 8:05 AM
Compere: Jordan Curtis
Interviewee: Ben Harris, Director of Policy and Research, Private Healthcare Australia


JORDAN CURTIS: This is your Classic Hits Breakfast with Jordan Curtis, and one thing that’s gotten a fair bit of attention over the last couple of days has been changes to the Medicare rebate scheme. Of course, this does affect a lot of Australians and it also affects private healthcare as well. I’m joined by Ben Harris, director of policy with Private Healthcare Australia. Ben, thanks for joining me today.
BEN HARRIS: Good morning, Jordan.
JORDAN CURTIS: So I guess, first of all, what’s your reaction to the changes to Medicare?
BEN HARRIS: Look, these are good changes. Medicare is more than 30 years old now, and we’ve had hundreds of doctors over the last six years pore over it to see whether the schedule needs to be changed. This time around, we’re getting 900 changes. Most of them are really minor. And the other good thing is more money will be put into Medicare as a result of these changes.
JORDAN CURTIS: So, one reaction from the Australian Medical Association was that these changes weren’t really given with much notice. Of course, they come into effect from the end of financial- or the beginning of the next financial year.
BEN HARRIS: Yeah, look, we agree with the AMA there. It has gone a bit too quickly and we’ve got a lot of people scrambling at the moment to update their systems. But we’ve got a lot- as I said, we’ve got a lot of people working hard to make sure their patients are not affected by this.
JORDAN CURTIS: So I guess what happens then from 1 July? How do people go about making sure that they are covered?
BEN HARRIS: The changes to the Medicare schedule are barely going to be a ripple for patients. What we’re going to see is some item numbers change. There are going to be some things which are combined. But overall, most people won’t see a change at all. If you’re worried, please check with your surgeon. Check with your health fund. But overall, this is just a modernisation of the schedule and nothing to be too stressed about.
JORDAN CURTIS: So with some of the procedures that have been, I guess, shifted away from the Medicare schedule, are they things that are usually performed under private healthcare anyway?
BEN HARRIS: Anyway, out of the 900 changes, there’s going to be nine things taken off the schedule. Most of those never actually get used. So they’ve come off because no one uses them. A couple of things have come off because they don’t work. But overall, everything that is changing in the schedule is a good change. It’s been put together by a whole heap of doctors to modernise Medicare.
JORDAN CURTIS: When we do see these changes to Medicare, of course, they get a lot of attention in the media, do we see a shift towards people picking up private health, I guess, as an option once, you know, these big stories on Medicare come out?
BEN HARRIS: Private healthcare is really important and particularly at this time to COVID. We’re seeing state hospitals being overrun in most states and territories, including in South Australia, and private health insurance means you can get the care you need when you need it.
JORDAN CURTIS: What would be the, I guess, the average wait time for procedures under a private healthcare arrangement?
BEN HARRIS: Most of the time with private healthcare, the wait is up to the patient. The doctor will have a few slots available. Often it’s weeks rather than months, as you’d have in many public system and in some cases, more than a year.
JORDAN CURTIS: And I guess, is there anything you can see on the horizon then for future changes to Medicare, or is there anything in particular that, like, you at least would hope to see changed?
BEN HARRIS: Medicare is being modernised at the moment. Over the last six years, hundreds of doctors have been working hard to make sure that the Medicare schedule relates to modern practice rather than what happened in the last century. There are 900 changes this time around, and that’s a big chunk and it’s going to be hard to swallow. But every six months for the next few years, we’re going to see some significant changes to Medicare to modernise the schedule.
JORDAN CURTIS: Okay. And just any last thoughts on the changes?
BEN HARRIS: Medicare is 35 years old now. It’s a great system and it serves Australians really well but it’s got to modernise. We’ve got to make sure that Medicare reflects modern practice, best practice, and make sure that it really looks after patients across Australia.
JORDAN CURTIS: No worries. Well, Ben, thanks so much for your time today.
BEN HARRIS: No worries. Thanks, Jordan. Cheers.
JORDAN CURTIS: That’s Ben Harris, director of policy with Private Healthcare Australia on your Classic Hits Breakfast.
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