Murwillumbah which was previously classified as a regional centre (MM2), is now classified as a metropolitan area (MM1).
Murwillumbah which was previously classified as a regional centre (MM2), is now classified as a metropolitan area (MM1). Kevin Farmer

Fears for M'bah health services after classification change

A TWEED councillor is following the lead of the Federal Member for Richmond in raising concerns about the reclassification of Murwillumbah's regional health status.

Under the Federal Government's Modified Monash Model (MMM), Murwillumbah which was previously classified as a regional centre (MM2), is now classified as a metropolitan area (MM1).

Tweed Shire councillor Reece Byrnes, a Labor Party member, has echoed MP Justine Elliot's calls for a reversal of the decision by federal Minister for Health Greg Hunt by submitting a motion to the February 20 council meeting.

The Labor MP, who wrote to Mr Hunt last month, fears the change means the area faces a decline in a range of health programs including rural Bulk Billing Incentives, Workforce Incentive Programs and the Bonded Medical Program.

Cr Bryne's motion recommends the council notes community concern regarding the reclassification, notes the potential decline in a range of health programs and writes to Mr Hunt to reconsider the change.

"This crazy decision could potentially see a decline of bulk billing rates and incentives for young doctors to come to the town to practice," he said.

"Everyone that has ever been born in, lived in, visited, or passed through Murwillumbah knows it is not a city like Sydney and Brisbane, it's a country town."

The health programs began transitioning to an updated version of the Modified Monash Model, which uses data from the 2016 Census, from January 1.

In her letter to the Minister, Mrs Elliot pleaded a case for reconsidering the change by comparing the population of Murwillumbah, about 9000, to that of Australia's major cities such as Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.

Under the reclassification Murwillumbah is now in the same category as them.

Mrs Elliot also argued the reclassification will have "severe implications" for Murwillumbah including the reduction of incentives for medical professionals and limiting medical practice availabilities to General Pathway registrars - no longer to Rural Pathway registrars.

She also said the changes may impact Rural Bulk Billing incentives for local GP's which in turn, may lead to increases in patient billing as well as making it difficult to attract new GPs to Murwillumbah as there is now no available regional or rural incentive payments.

A Department of Health spokesman said the MMM classification is purely a data-based geographic classification system based on ABS Census data and does not include a discretionary component.

"At the request of Minister for Regional Services, Mark Coulton, the Department of Health is working with communities to better target health programs for rural and regional communities such as Murwillumbah, where the MMM classification has changed," the spokesman said.

According to the department, incentives available to all eligible Medical Practices in Murwillumbah are standard Bulk Billing Incentives,  Practice Nurse Incentive Payments (PNIP) (transitioning to the Workforce Incentive Program (WIP) - Practice Stream on February 1) and  Practice Incentive Program (PIP) payments.  

Practices in Murwillumbah will receive a 40 per cent rural loading as PIP continues to use the Rural Remote and Metropolitan Area classification system to determine eligibility.  

Under the WIP - Practice Stream, practices in all locations, including Murwillumbah, are eligible for incentive payments of up to $125,000 per annum to support the engagement of eligible health professionals.    



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