Medicare rebate cut will put pressure on rural GPs

RURAL doctors with already stretched profit margins could be forced to charge the $5 co-payment after Prime Minister Tony Abbott yesterday confirmed cuts to Medicare rebates.

While the Rural Doctors Association of Australia welcomed exemptions from the $5 per visit cut to rebates, they remained concerned of the effects of the changes in regional and remote areas.

RDAA chief executive Jenny Johnson said the rebate cut, and another four years without increases to rebates, would place "extra pressure" on rural general practitioners.

She said in many smaller regional towns it was common for doctors to help in local hospitals. Ms Johnson said if the changes led to doctors shutting rural surgeries it would have impacts at hospitals and the wider rural health system.

"I don't think there's any one factor, but when you put these changes in combination with a lot of other factors, it does make it harder," Ms Johnson said.

"I've already had a call from one doctor who said it was the final straw and they are now considering whether to stay in rural practice or not.

"We don't want to be alarmist, but these changes just show a few little warning bells on the horizon."

She said while rural doctors would be under pressure not to charge the extra $5, most doctors would probably have to make patients pay as they needed to "maintain their economic viability".

National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation chairman Matthew Cooke also said most indigenous services would absorb the cut, but the move was essentially "de-funding" services.

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