Gold Coast neurologist Professor John Corbett
Gold Coast neurologist Professor John Corbett

FEDERAL FREEZE: Why this doctor won’t bulk bill anymore

A GOLD Coast neurologist says he has been forced to suspend specialist bulk bill tests for patients because of a freeze on government rebates.

Professor John Corbett of Corbett Neurophysiology Service took the major step of suspending the bulk billing of electroencephalogram's (EEG) at his clinic, until the government pause on specialist Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) is lifted to inflation levels.

The EEG tests which is often vital for the diagnosis of conditions like epilepsy would normally cost patients $450 according to the Australian Medical Association's recommended pricing list.

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However Prof Corbett charged his patients nothing, only taking the Government rebate of just over $100.

In 2012 all specialist rebates were suspended, instead of increasing year on year with CPI, adding to the clinic's bottom line.

According to Prof Corbett he can no longer cop the losses.

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Gold Coast Neurologist Professor Corbett argues those unable to pay gap fees because of the Medicare freeze will need to move to the public health system, which adds to federal health costs.
Gold Coast Neurologist Professor Corbett argues those unable to pay gap fees because of the Medicare freeze will need to move to the public health system, which adds to federal health costs.

"Medicare rebates have failed to keep up with the increasing costs for providing medical services," Prof Corbett told the Bulletin yesterday.

"Most of the affected patients cannot afford gap fees and will need now to be referred to the public system, where increased costs and long waiting lists are likely."

"I am struggling more and more to cover the costs, as rates, payroll, electricity increases but rebates stay the same."

Prof Corbett claims he is also looking to suspend bulk billing for other tests because of the climbing price of operating.

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Professor Corbett said he was disappointed by the reply from Minister for Health Greg Hunt (pictured). (Sam Mooy)
Professor Corbett said he was disappointed by the reply from Minister for Health Greg Hunt (pictured). (Sam Mooy)

"People think specialists make a lot of money, but in fact bulk billing specialists are a dying breed," he said.

"A substantial percentage of my patients will be referred to local public hospitals.

"These hospitals will be swamped: Neurologists are already in short supply and I know from personal experience that it is exceedingly difficult to attract new Neurologists to practice full-time neurophysiology."

"Meanwhile, their medical problems progress and often become costlier to treat, while their symptoms may stop them from working. It rarely saves money to defer medical treatment, doubly so when the end result is that patients require expensive public-hospital care."

Concerned Prof Corbett had written to every federal and state MP in order to over turn the changes and bring the rebates up to where they would be without the freeze.

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The federal government last year announced a staged reintroduction of indexation of Medicare rebates in the 2017-18 Budget however for specialist services they won't commence any small increase until July 1 2019.

A measure which Prof Corbett said is simply not enough with the impact of several years of frozen rebates costing him dearly.

Federal Labor has also commited to a lift on the freeze should it win government but the extent of any catch up is unknown.

"Any lift in the freeze would mean we are still behind by a few years," Prof Corbett said.

"At this stage I am unable to upgrade any of my equipment because I just don't have enough confidence in the political future."

The neurologist has also petitioned the Health Minister, Greg Hunt on the matter and attracted 10,422 signatures in the process.

Despite his efforts he has only received a proforma reply.

"The lack of response to the wills of 10,000 people is stunning to me," Prof Corbett said.

"I simply don't see how a freeze can save a government any money if it means we are diagnosing patients later."

The Gold Coast Medical Association has also backed Professor Corbett's calls for change.



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