Chris Bowen: Concern over approach to compliance

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Shadow Health Minister Chris Bowen has written to Minister Greg Hunt expressing concern over letters written to some general practitioners about Medicare claims regarding mental health items.

The Department of Health recently wrote to some GPs who claim MBS Professional items with GP Mental Health Treatment items.

The new compliance letter was sent to 341 GPs who are co-claiming these items around 90 per cent of the time. 

This correspondence follows previous compliance-focussed letters that attracted some criticism. The Department apologised for the "anxiety and distress" caused by some of these previous letters.

In his letter to Minister Hunt, Mr Bowen says, "While the letter was sent to a small number of GPs, you would be aware that many more have been alarmed by its apparent implications. Indeed, the President of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners has described the letter as 'an intimidating and heavy-handed tactic designed to pick on a small group to affect the whole group."

Mr Bowen said, "In response to the letter, GPs have highlighted a range of common situations where providing integrated physical and mental health care is entirely appropriate - and indeed, to be encouraged.

"I therefore urge you to clarify your Government's policy on this matter, and to assure the vast majority of GPs who bill appropriately that they will not be subject to similar interventions in the future."

The Australian National Audit Office is currently conducting an audit of the Department of Health’s approach to health provider compliance.

In its submission, the AMA recommended government agencies adopt a consistent approach to advice provided on the correct use of Medicare items and better training.

It said, "The Department, when undertaking compliance activity, now focuses on providers who fall well outside the billing patterns of their peers or circumstances where there is significant growth in the use of higher value MBS items. While we support this more targeted approach, there is a need for greater nuance to refine this even further.

"The blunt use of metrics, such as those in or above the 80th percentile of users, will overlook the nature of a practitioner’s practice, patient demographic, or special interest."