THE federal government backflipped overnight on its controversial Medicare ruling on practice nurses after an outcry from the Rural Doctors Association of Australia (RDAA), headed by Tamworth GP Ian Kamerman.
The government announced it would scrap Medicare rebates for practice nurses who deliver health assessments in general practices, but quickly reversed the decision after doctors said it could “spell out the end for many practice nurses” and would put financial strain on rural practices.
Practice nurses conduct health assessments for target groups, including people over the age of 75, people with an intellectual disability and those from a refugee background.
Dr Kamerman said practice nurses were “appropriately skilled and qualified to do this work” and are remunerated by Medicare for the time taken to carry out assessments, but until the drastic turnaround, that rebate was set to be discontinued.
The move would have been detrimental for rural practices who would not be able to afford to carry out health assessments if they were not reimbursed for the work of their nurses, forcing doctors to perform health assessments instead of higher-skilled tasks. Some health assessments may have been dropped by practices altogether, as they would not be financially viable without the Medicare rebate.
“I must admit, looking at the figures it would not have been worthwhile doing health assessments for over-75s,” Dr Kamerman said.
He said target groups could have been deprived of helpful medical information as a result.
If the change had gone ahead, the region may have lost many of its practice nurses, with most Tamworth practices employing between two and six nurses, Dr Kamerman said.
He said the government’s reversal was prompted by vocal opposition from the medical profession.
“I have never experienced such a bout of outrage from my members and colleagues,” Dr Kamerman said.
He welcomed the government’s reversal and said it was reassuring for doctors, practice nurses and patients in the New England region.