Since becoming health minister, Sussan Ley has spent most of her time cleaning up the mess she inherited from her predecessor, Peter Dutton, who was unable to sell the GP co-payment to voters and who alienated the medical profession with his inability to meaningfully engage on issues of substance.
The review of the Medicare Benefits Schedule will now be her test. Already it has soured relations between the Australian Medical Association and the minister. But a root-and-branch review of the MBS is well overdue. As Four Corners showed last night, we have a system in which over-diagnosis and pointless testing are rife. Any government program, especially one as longstanding as the MBS, should be the subject of regular review to ensure taxpayers are getting the most value for money and recipients are getting the best possible services. Appropriately, the review is being led by clinicians, not bureaucrats, with a focus on patient welfare.
There is one critical area, however, that the government is not reviewing but should be. The private health insurance rebate — which, despite being significantly curbed by the previous government, will still cost taxpayers over $6 billion this year — is the single greatest area of waste in the Commonwealth health system. That funding would be far more effectively directed into health services rather than the pockets of people with private health insurance.
It’s time for an independent review of this subsidy for an industry that has done extraordinarily well out of the taxpayer, for unclear health outcomes.