PATIENTS paid more as a result of changes to the Medicare safety net which were meant to reduce out-of-pocket costs, a Government-commissioned study has found.
The extended Medicare safety net ... was directly responsible for an average 2.9 per cent rise in fees charged by most specialists ...
The findings of the report by the Centre for Health Economics Research and Evaluation in Sydney have been used by the Government to justify its crackdown on excessive fees charged by some obstetricians, vascular surgeons and eye specialists ...
... the study found the extended safety net not only spurred some specialists to charge much higher fees in the knowledge that patients would get most of the money back, but also benefited patients on higher incomes much more than those on lower incomes.
The safety net had ... [provided] benefits that increased with doctors' fees, regardless of how high those fees might be.
... The Government's decision to cap safety net payments for some fees is expected to generate savings of $440 million over four years. The move has set the scene for a showdown between high-charging obstetricians, their patients and the Government, over whether the specialists will reduce their fees or expect patients to pick up hundreds of dollars in charges no longer covered by the safety net. An obstetrics leader, Andrew Pesce, has warned that the cap on fees which can be defrayed by the safety net would "significantly affect affordability" for most women under the care of private obstetricians.
... The Health Minister, Nicola Roxon, has said that excessive fees had resulted in taxpayers funding million-dollar incomes for some specialists. The top-earning 10 per cent of obstetricians were each paid an average $1.1 million a year through Medicare, including $612,000 through the extended Medicare safety net, she said.