Blame game over rural docs’ $1 million payback
THE health department and Medicare are understood to have each blamed the other for a $1 million mistake that will force almost 300 GPs to repay thousands of dollars’ worth of incentive payments.
The error, which MO understands the department had attributed to Medicare and which Medicare blamed on department data, has resulted in overpayments of the Rural Retention Grant totalling $1.1 million and involving 293 GPs around the country and another 40 GPs being underpaid a total of $200,000.
AMA correspondence with the department said underpayments have already been rectified, but letters bluntly stating the overpaid GPs would have future payments docked have incensed rural doctors.
NSW GP Dr Les Woollard, who practises in Moree and was overpaid $18,000, said he understood the error related to the new ASGC-RA classification system used to determine the incentives and which now equates Moree (pop. 8000) with much larger centres like Townsville (pop. 185,000).
Dr Woollard said that made it harder to recruit health practitioners and showed Health Minister “Tanya Plibersek and the rest of them that I’ve met just don’t get it”.
“People will die because of a lack of services and they will say, you’re just country people; what do you expect?” he said.
“It’s because those idiots in Canberra don’t recognise the difference.”
Dr Woollard said in the past five days he had been called to deliver a 26-week baby and a 29-week baby, care for another mother who was bleeding profusely following a delivery, a three-year old child who was unconscious and an elderly woman suffering renal failure.
“I certainly don’t begrudge anyone the incentives they receive, but I can’t understand how you could look at the workload and believe general practice in Moree is the same as general practice in Townsville or Cairns,” he said.
AMA president Dr Steve Hambleton said “this is why the ASGC-RA system is ridiculous”.
“Misclassifications like this have really shaken people’s faith in the system,” he said.
In an open letter to Ms Plibersek – which was also sent to a number of coalition, Green and independent MPs – Rural Doctors Association of Australia CEO Jenny Johnson said the anomalies in the ASGC-RA system and the “reluctance to date to address this issue” were sending a clear message to rural GPs “that their work is not valued”.
“Unfortunately, many are starting to wonder if they too should relocate to an area where there is more support and where the lifestyle is easier in many respects,” she wrote.
“RDAA continues to call for an independent review of the ASGC-RA system [and] we request that you address this issue as a matter of high priority.”
Comment from Medicare and Ms Plibersek’s office has been sought.