The newly elected head of the Australian Medical Association (AMA), Dr James Gibbon, has announced that from next week, General Practitioners (GPs) will cut their consultation fees to $10. This is a cut of about $70 in the cost of the average ten-minute consultation.
In an AMA meeting last week, the majority voted to do the right thing and cut fees. "Just because we have a monopoly doesn't mean that we should charge exorbitant fees." Dr Gibbon said in applauding the decision.
Dr Gibbon said that GPs have decided to be realistic about their charges. "They have realised that no-one deserves to be paid $80 for a ten-minute session." he said. He went on to add that the current high costs of medical care are causing many people, particularly pensioners, to miss out on vital treatment. "We have decided to do the right thing." he said, "and will cut our fees to a realistic amount, so that proper medical attention will be available to all Australians."
Also part of the new cost structure is the intention that all consultations should be directly charged to Medicare rather than to the patient.
A number of groups have applauded the cost cuts.
A spokesperson for a number of pensioner organisations said that at last pensioners will be able to get proper medical care. She explained that many pensioners are starving to death so that they can afford GP's fees for treatment for illnesses that they only get because they do not have enough to eat. "Now pensioners will be able to eat, just like real people." she pointed out.
The Minister for Health said that it was good to see that GPs have finally seen sense and will reduce their fees to a decent amount. He went on to add "At last people will get the proper, cheap medical care they deserve. Since most GPs are expected to charge their consultation fees directly to Medicare, the patients will actually get it free, which is a good thing. The Government applauds this decision!"
Some GPs who oppose the changes and who wished to remain anonymous for professional and financial reasons, have objected to the new cost structure. They claim that the cost of a consultation is a reflection of their training and responsibility.
A spokesperson for the oppositions GPs added "We have a monopoly so why shouldn't we charge what we like for our services? People have no choice but to come to us so we are in a position to dictate the price of our services. If people don't want to pay our fees they can go somewhere else for treatment."
Dr Gibbon pointed out that, of course, patients can't go somewhere else as there is no other place to go. "That is the point of establishing a monopoly." he said. "People don't have a choice. They have to put up with it or go without."
For many years the AMA has been arguing that a monopoly in health care is to the benefit of GPs and patients. They argue that it helps by keeping out those who do not agree with AMA policies. Since all GPs must belong to the AMA to practice, and non-medically qualified people cannot be members, there has never been any opposition to this policy. The AMA has always argued that a monopoly keeps the cost down and makes the best treatment available to everyone.
A recent survey of medical treatment in Australia showed that many people are going without medical care because they can't afford it.
Dr Gibbon responded to the opposition argument, saying "Their objections do not hold up to scrutiny. Many people do a six-year apprenticeship in their trade, as we do, and many people have jobs that involve as much responsibility as ours." He went on to explain his view. "At present, most GPs charge about $80 for a ten-minute consultation. That works out to $480 an hour they earn." He further pointed out, "We are no more highly trained than the motor mechanic who looks after my car, and he only charges $120 an hour."