Public health

‘Patients could die’: Doctors’ group calls for ECG rebate cuts to be reversed immediately

Dr Robert Marr

Another medical group has joined calls for the Federal Government to reverse the cut to Medicare rebates for ECGs in general practice, declaring the decision will result in patient deaths.

GPs have been banned since August 2020 from claiming MBS item 11700 for tracing and interpreting a 12-lead ECG, restricted instead to a new item that only covers the trace itself.

The result of recommendations by the MBS Review Taskforce, the move has been the subject of long-running protests from the AMA and RACGP, which has labelled it a “slap in the face” to GPs.

Now, the Australian Doctors Reform Society has entered the fray.

“This will result in some GPs stopping ECGs and instead referring patients to specialists or hospital,” said the society’s secretary general Dr Robert Marr.

The Sydney GP added: “It will mean unnecessary costs and delays which could even result in some patients dying as a result of delayed ECGs.”

The group, known for its campaigns for universal health care in Australia, said the cuts should become a debate point in the federal election campaign and called on both major parties to make their position clear.

It came after the Federal Government announced a month ago that it would not reverse the restriction, in spite of recommendations by an independent committee established to review the cuts.

Chaired by former Australasian College for Emergency Medicine president Professor Sally McCarthy, the committee found the changes had led to a 9% fall in Medicare claims for ECGs compared with the previous 12 months.

With rebates reduced from $27.45 to $16.50, average out-of-pocket costs had also risen by almost $4 per test, it said.

But in its response, the government argued it was too soon to establish whether the revamp was solely responsible, saying another 12 months of data was needed to determine the impact of the MBS changes.

The committee itself had acknowledged the difficulty of separating out the effects of COVID-19 on the ECG claims, the government added.

Not everyone was against the changes, with high-profile cardiologist Professor Michael Feneley arguing three years ago that GPs should not receive the same MBS funding as other specialists to interpret ECGs.

“Clearly they’ve been breaking the rules the whole time… our view is that they should stop breaking the law,” he told the 2019 CSANZ ASM.

The director of cardiology at St Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney, he also warned the government against any compromise giving GPs access to a new MBS item to report on ECG results.

“We should all be very deeply insulted [that cardiologists are treated the same as GPs] and I certainly will be making representations to the minister about it on your behalf,” he said.

“I think economically it’s the worst outcome because…one of the biggest savings that could have been made would be to stop GPs from charging the report.

“That would have saved a motza so a lot of the savings are now going to be squandered.”

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