Better Access cuts will go back into mental health: Roxon
HEALTH Minister Nicola Roxon has given GPs a guarantee that every cent saved through the controversial cuts to the Better Access scheme will be reinvested elsewhere in mental health services.
In a robust question and answer session before more than 1000 delegates at the AGPN National Forum in Melbourne this week, Ms Roxon also all but ruled out meeting long-running GP demands that MBS rebates be indexed to match inflation.
Ms Roxon was asked by former AGPN chair Dr Tony Hobbs, one of the architects of the Medicare Locals (ML) program, about the government’s plans for the $580 million it is expected to save by slashing GP Better Access.
Dr Hobbs said there were already concerns that the cuts, since taking effect on 1 November, had led to patients being “quarantined” before being treated by their GP, and demanded a guarantee that all savings go back into the ML-run Access to Allied Psychological Services (ATAPS) program.
“I can absolutely commit that that is going into mental health,” Ms Roxon replied.
“We have a very firm commitment about how that money is going to be spent – in mental health.”
She added that it was “just not possible for us to continue to meet growing demands” without reviewing existing spending, but “money that gets saved in one area… will absolutely flow through to mental health”.
However, Ms Roxon was less amenable to calls for indexed MBS rebates and urged GPs to show what additional services they could deliver before asking for extra funding.
Noting GP pay was “still very generous” and the MBS had so far been spared the cuts other parts of the health system had faced, Ms Roxon said there was “no appetite in government” for a “big jump” in the MBS.
“Big licks of money will only ever be considered by government if you can show us what additional benefits patients will get out of it,” she said.
Byron Kaye reports from the 2011 AGPN National Forum in Melbourne.