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24 May 2016

Pathology services will be quarantined from the Federal Government’s overhaul of Medicare in a major concession secured by the profession in exchange for dropping its campaign against the axing of bulk billing incentives.

The Government has opened the door to special deals regarding its MBS Review after agreeing to leave the Pathology Services Table, which lists the tests Medicare will cover and how much it will pay, untouched for the next three years.

Under the deal, the Government said it would “not change the Pathology Services Table, excluding those from the MBS Review, for the next three years, without consultation and agreement with the sector”.

Royal College of Pathologists of Australasia President, Dr Michael Harrison, said the arrangement meant “there will be a moratorium for the next three years on any further changes to [the] Pathology Services Table without agreement from the profession”.

The arrangement deepens questions about the Government’s rationale for the Medicare Review, suggesting its focus is primarily on savings rather than updating the MBS per se.

AMA President Professor Brian Owler told Sky News the AMA had been “quite happy” to participate in the review on the understanding that its primary goal was to modernise the MBS and deliver better outcomes for patients. This would involve ploughing a share of any savings made back into health, including lifting the Medicare rebate freeze.

“The conversations that I had with the former Prime Minister went along the lines of investing some of that money, if there were savings from that review, back into health,” Professor Owler said. “And it was very clear that one of the things that we're aiming to do was to lift the MBS freeze. Now all of that seems to have fallen away. Clearly there's no effort to lift the freeze and what this Government is determined to do is to continue the freeze…and pass the cost from the Government, through the doctor, onto patients.”

Adrian Rollins

Published: 24 May 2016