Bulkbilling data and co-payment modelling ‘missing in action’

Thursday, June 19, 2014

In response to media questions at the National Press Club on 28 May, Health Minister Peter Dutton referred to modelling undertaken by the Commonwealth Government in the development of the co-payment policy. He stated, “… the modelling that we've done shows an increase in the number of GP presentations, even with the changes that we have made, over the course of the next couple of years. There will be, on the modelling that we've done so far, an estimate around one per cent of people who won't present to general practice, and we say that in year two that drops off to about half a per cent.”

On 6 June 2014, the Department of Human Services refused an Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association (AHHA) request for information on the number of people who were bulkbilled in 2012-13 on the grounds that the information did not exist and that to produce it would require the development of a computer program.

The AHHA has now obtained information that the Department of Health has refused a Freedom of Information request for summary documents arising from all modelling conducted under the current government regarding co-payments for medical services and increased co-payments under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. The refusal is based on the grounds that the “Department has been unable to find any document containing modelling of recommendations from the Commission of Audit regarding co-payments for medical services or increased co-payments under the PBS.” 

It further states that “an extensive search and consultation with the relevant policy areas revealed that there are no documents (summary or otherwise) held by the Department arising from all modelling conducted under the current government regarding co-payments for medical services, as recommended by the Commission of Audit and detailed in the Budget, and increased co-payments under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.”

Given that this policy measure is a fundamental change to bulkbilling practices, it is extraordinary that data required to understand the number of people who will be affected by the policy has not been developed, and that the limited bulkbilling data that is available has not been used to model impacts.

The AHHA calls on the Minister, and the two responsible Departments, to do the right thing by the Australian public: prepare and produce evidence to support health policy changes.  With this information currently ‘missing in action’, the Government is on very shaky grounds as it tries to defend co-payments.

The Australian Healthcare & Hospitals Association represents Australia’s largest group of health care providers in public hospitals, community and primary health sectors and advocates for universal high quality healthcare to benefit the whole community.

Media inquiries:

Alison Verhoeven, Chief Executive, Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association 0403 282 501