GPs concerned over pathology requests to restrict bulk-billing
GPs have hit out at attempts from pathology providers to recruit them in a bid to scale back bulk-billing services – a move that has also caused friction with consumer groups.
Last week it emerged that five leading pathology providers had written separately to GPs asking that they limit bulk-billing requests to patients they believed were financially disadvantaged, including pensioners and healthcare cardholders.
The providers said their requests had come as a direct result of cuts to 259 Medicare-funded pathology items announced in the May federal Budget. But the move has raised the ire of consumer groups.
The Consumers Health Forum has called on the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) to investigate.
However, at the time of going to press the ACCC would not confirm whether any investigation was underway.
The recent move by pathologists has also been questioned by Queensland GP Dr Janet Clarkson, who said GPs were obliged to put their patients, not other businesses, first.
“I don’t think we have any responsibility to help the pathology providers,” she said.
“We have a responsibility to get the best deal for our patients, and we have a responsibility for what we spend out of the public purse, but I don’t think we have an obligation to help another business in that way.”
AMA vice-president Dr Steve Hambleton said the requests put GPs in a difficult situation, and noted it might have unintended consequences for patient health.
“If patients have to decide where they have to spend their resources, I am sure it means people are going to forgo tests, and it is going to be a problem,” he said.
Ann Webb, CEO of the Australian Association of Pathology Practices, said while she was aware that member companies had been contacting practices regarding changes to billing practices, there had been no discussions between them.
“The decisions they have made are purely from their own individual business perspective,” she said.
Changes to bulk-billing policies were foreshadowed immediately after the Budget by Dr Colin Goldschmidt, managing director of Sonic Healthcare, and Dr Edmund Bateman, managing director of Primary Health Care (Medical Observer, 22 May).