The number of general practices that decide to administer COVID vaccines will speak volumes as to whether GPs think they are being paid enough to participate in the program, says the AMA president.
Dr Omar Khorshid said that while the timeline of rolling out the program in general practice remains unclear, GP participation would remain crucial to its success.
“We’ve certainly pushed for a model that would be viable for the bulk of general practices and [Health Minister Greg Hunt] has indicated to us that he’s hoping that the bulk of GPs will participate,” he told TMR.
Dr Omar Khorshid said both the AMA and RACGP had pushed the government over consecutive weeks to make sure the Medicare items for administering the COVID vaccine were viable for practices.
The Department of Health revealed at the weekend how GPs would be remunerated for COVID vaccines, with practices set to recoup between $65 and $74.90 for each patient who completed the two-dose course.
The decision was met with outrage from GPs on social media, who called out the item numbers as being “low-value” for medical practices.
Sad that Australian General Practice is ready & able to deliver COVID-19 immunisation across nation – yet imposition of mandatory bulkbilling low value item number under @MedicareGov means most GP clinics will run program at significant loss to their business @racgp @GregHuntMP pic.twitter.com/wXbyhXWLD8— Tim Leeuwenburg (@KangarooBeach) January 24, 2021
Dr Khorshid said the AMA felt the MBS items offered a reasonable payment for a vaccination clinic model, where vaccines were being efficiently delivered by a practice nurse, on behalf of a GP.
“The item numbers in the position that we got to after chatting with the RACGP and the government were, as always, a compromise and negotiation,” he said.
GPs have been warned by the RACGP that they shouldn’t express their interest in participating in the vaccination program if they don’t think it’s financially viable for their practice.
But only time will tell if the money currently on the table from the government is enough to incentivise GP practices to become COVID vaccination hubs.
And Dr Khorshid said it was an important factor to consider, given participation from general practices would be integral to the success of program.
“We’ve been led to believe [the government] were looking initially at maybe 1000 practices around the country – which is not going to be enough to roll it out 20 million people,” Dr Khorshid told TMR.
“The success of this will require a lot of GPs to want to participate, and I’m hoping that’s what will happen.”
But the time involved in obtaining patient consent has been acknowledged as a considerable barrier for practices in streamlining the administration of COVID vaccines.
“The government has agreed to a national consent process so that GPs aren’t having to spend substantial amounts of time on informed consent with the patient during the vaccination process, because clearly, that won’t work with the numbers [of patients] that we need to get through, and the amount that [the government is] willing to fund it,” Dr Khorshid said.
This would enable GPs to initiate separate consults for patients needing more counselling, separate to the actual vaccine administration, that could be eligible for co-claiming.
“This would also allow the ability to be opportunistic and suggest those in normal consults to pop next door and get the vaccine,” Dr Khorshid said.
But Dr Khorshid said that if GP practices were not moved by the current item numbers being offered for the vaccination program, the federal government would have to reconsider its offer.
“The government is clearly trying to limit the cost of the program, and they’re always going to be pushing one way, and of course, the AMA and RACGP are pushing another way,” he said.
“The viability of this set of numbers will be tested by how many practices choose to participate and we fully expect that if it doesn’t turn out to be viable, or doesn’t fulfil the requirements of general practice, then it would need further consideration to improve it.”