New AMA President Dr Tony Bartone says doctors have a limited time to win back funding and reboot general practice before the next election.
Dr Bartone was elected to the AMA’s top role in a three-way race at the weekend, becoming the first GP to lead the association in four years.
The Melbourne GP indicated he would resist the government’s plan to reintroduce indexation of Medicare for GP items from July by increasing the standard consultation rebate by just 55 cents.
“I’m on the record already saying that that 55-cent rebate increase is insulting,” Dr Bartone told journalists after his victory on Sunday.
“That is not going to reflect the need of general practice to reverse the targeted cuts and disinvestment over the last decade or so.
“I said that we need significant, targeted funding. I don’t think it’s going to be through rebates only. We need to look at many, many ways of ensuring that we deliver additional funds to general practice.”
The AMA’s Council of General Practice was already working up a “significant, multi-point plan” to put to Health Minister Greg Hunt.
Dr Bartone also said that under his leadership the AMA would look at offering a better value proposition for GP members.
“We need to make it consistent across our federation of states and territories, and we will do what we think we need [to do],” he said.
Part of Dr Bartone’s campaign pitch to delegates was the need to lift flagging GP membership in the AMA.
“A GP president will send an urgent, powerful message at this critical time to the GP community that membership of the AMA is essential,” Dr Bartone told delegates.
“Our health minister needs to understand that the time for rhetoric is over. Our patience is wearing thin. We need to see crucial positive actions now.”
Doctors had a “narrow window of opportunity to further deeply engage with government and achieve meaningful outcomes” before the next federal election, he said.
Having a GP president would send a strong message to the rest of the medical profession that general practice was important, that general practice was an essential reason to be part of the AMA, he said.
“I mentioned that there needs to be a significant, targeted investment in general practice to reward long-term, patient-centred care. And that is a fundamental situation that can’t be walked away from.”
Dr Bartone was formerly vice-president to Dr Michael Gannon, a Perth obstetrician, during his two-year AMA leadership, and was also a former leader of AMA Victoria.
In his parting remarks, Dr Gannon said the beginnings of health workforce reform had formed the centre of the latest health budget.
But his successor would find that delivering a just, morally or intellectually correct argument was not enough to bring change.
“I was elected president in the middle of an election campaign. The combination of a ‘knife-edge’ result, a one-seat majority, and the bruises felt by the Turnbull government after the ‘Mediscare’, made it a difficult environment to champion serious health reform,” Dr Gannon said.
The AMA had to work at incremental reform, engaging with issues such as the MBS Reviews, the introduction of the My Health Record, and the workings of the Private Health Ministerial Advisory Committee.
“A health system that pays a GP more to inject Botox than visit a Residential Aged Care Facility is broken,” Dr Gannon added.
“A system that regularly has acute mental health patients languishing for hours or days in emergency departments is broken.”