The Federal Government has come under fire for failing to act on calls from its own MBS Review Taskforce to double the GP rebate for spirometry tests.
Twelve months after the review proposed doubling the rebate for GP pre- and post-bronchodilator spirometry to $40, doctors are still waiting for ministers to respond.
According to the taskforce, the current $20.55 MBS rebate fails to properly compensate GPs for their time. As a result, serious respiratory conditions are going undetected.
Professor Christine Jenkins, chair of the taskforce's expert clinical committee which came up with the proposals, said: “These delays are very frustrating when we worked extremely hard to make our recommendations according to the health department’s timeline and now we have seen them lie fallow."
“I don’t think they are likely to increase costs by much, but it will improve clinical practice and that is the really important primary motivation of all the people on our group who worked extremely hard to get these recommendations finalised.
The Medicare Review Taskforce also urged the government to revamp Medicare to ensure the tests are performed annually, as opposed to the present average of once every five years.
And it said GPs should be given the option to directly refer patients suspected of sleep apnoea for sleep studies.
Among the other proposals was for greater scrutiny of corporate sleep clinics.
Again the government has yet to respond to any of the recommendations.
But since they were released back in March last year, two sleep specialists have voluntarily repaid more than $1 million in misused Medicare payments and another 79 doctors have been contacted by the department in relation to claims for sleep studies.
When contacted by Australian Doctor, a spokesman for Minister for Health Greg Hunt said a response would be delivered in the near future:
“The Minister thanks Professor Jenkins for her work in delivering these recommendations. The government will respond on these recommendations in the near future, working closely with all stakeholders to deliver reform which improves patient care.”
Among Professor Jenkins' expert committee suggestions was allowing GPs to perform post-bronchodilator spirometry without administering the earlier test.
However it was rejected by the Medicare taskforce and was not included in its current recommendations to the health minister.
“Post-bronchodilator spirometry is all that is required to demonstrate the presence of airflow limitation consistent with COPD,” Professor Jenkins said, “so we are disappointed that was not approved.”