Doctors milk birth rebates under Medicare Safety Net

Interested in home birth, hospital birth or private midwifery care? Questions or comments? Email me or call 0400 418 448. Link

OBSTETRICIANS have doubled their charges as they take advantage of the taxpayer-funded Medicare Safety Net to earn more than $1million a year.

Medicare figures obtained by The Daily Telegraph reveal obstetricians were charging on average $835 to manage a pregnancy in July 2004, which had almost doubled to $1535 by last year.

The figures reveal that in the past year alone obstetricians lifted fees by 20 per cent compared with just 5 per cent for other medical specialties.

The increase in charges helped turn obstetricians into millionaires with the highest earning 10 per cent of obstetricians now earning $1.8million a year _ $1.1 million of which comes from Medicare.

There ought to be no issue with obstetricians - or anyone - earning over $1M. The issue is: should Medicare pay for a woman's choice to see a specialist in complicated pregnancy and birth when perhaps a midwife would be cheaper and more appropriate for most women's care. The Govt has a responsibility to provide a basic and safe level of care. Should this extend to obstetrics for all women who choose it? Certainly, women ought to be able to choose obstetric care without a genuine need, but in that case I believe the woman ought to fund that care entirely. If there's a genuine need for a woman to have obstetric care, the Govt ought to fund it.

But a Federal Government attempt to try to cap further rises in these fees and save taxpayers $194million was in danger of being blocked by the Senate.

Doctors were able to increase fees because the Medicare Safety Net introduced in 2004 meant mothers did not have to pay the fee rises.

Taxpayers instead picked up 80 per cent of the higher charges once the mother had spent more than $1100 a year on health fees.

Taxpayer funding for obstetrics leapt from $62 million in 2004 to $297.87 million in 2009.

The Government now wants to impose a cap on how much Medicare will refund under this scheme to try to control future fee increases by obstetricians.

AMA president ... Dr Andrew Pesce conceded some of his colleagues took advantage of the Medicare Safety Net to raise fees.

"There are some doctors who were able to get more rebates ... because they worked in areas where patients could afford it," Dr Pesce said.

... Currently Medicare pays rebates averaging $2386 that cover the planning and management of a pregnancy, antenatal visits and delivery of the baby.

Under Government cutbacks these rebates will drop to $1669.

... The Medicare Safety Net cost $414 million last year and 50 per cent of the money spent under the scheme went to obstetricians and IVF specialists.

Melissa Maimann, Essential Birth Consulting 0400 418 448