RACGP urges new Medicare item to achieve cost savings and improve patient care access

The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) is calling on the federal Government to introduce a new Medicare item to increase patient access to treatment for iron deficiency anaemia and achieve massive cost savings.

It comes following the College’s submission to the Medical Benefits Schedule (MBS) Review Advisory Committee’s MBS Continuous Review.

RACGP President Dr Nicole Higgins said that a new Medicare item would lead to faster treatment and significant government savings.

“We estimate that supporting the delivery of iron infusions in GP clinics through a new Medicare item could deliver cost savings to government of as much as $123 million per year. It would also reduce out of pocket costs for patients and keep people out of hospital,” she said.

“In 2021-22 alone, more than 60,000 patients were admitted to hospital for severe iron deficiency anaemia and received same day treatment. Many of these patients could have received their infusions in general practice instead. Advances in technology mean that this is an absolute no-brainer. The Government should act to save money and improve access for patients without delay. The new item should be combined with dynamic public health messaging educating patients across Australia about the causes and symptoms of iron deficiency and nutritional information about how to boost iron levels in our diet.

“This is a problem that needs fixing right away. Iron deficiencies are the most common nutritional deficiency in Australia and remain stubbornly underdiagnosed. Patients with sufficiently low iron for a long period can develop anaemia and may need to be hospitalised. Despite the seriousness of this deficiency, access to iron infusions can prove problematic. That is because historically iron infusions were administered in hospitals. The rationale behind this was safety concerns relating to now obsolete formulations of the iron being used in the infusions. These days, we have new formulations that can be safely delivered by a GP in their clinic.

“So, the technology is available, but what is holding us back is the fact that there are no Medicare items subsidising iron infusions in general practice. As a result, many practices charge over $200 to administer them and whilst the practice can bill a standard consultation item, hence lowering the patient’s out-of-pocket costs by $41.10 or $80.10 depending on concessions, they cannot bill a longer item as nurse time cannot be included when billing these items. The monitoring time also impacts access to the consultation room for the GP to be able to see other patients, reducing overall patient load.

“Out-of-pocket patient fees of well over $100 are out of the reach for many people, particularly at a time of high cost of living pressures. So, instead patients end up on waiting lists to receive the iron infusion in a public hospital or outpatient clinic, if one is available. Their care is delayed by months, and in the meantime their condition can significantly deteriorate.

“These delays can cause patients to become severely anaemic and, as a result, they may then require hospitalisation. Keep in mind that hospital presentations of even minor or medium complexity cost the taxpayer $1,118.50 to $2,113.50 per presentation. In addition to government savings, it would mean more patients accessing care faster and more conveniently from a GP they know and trust, furthering enhancing continuity of care.

“The solution is right in front of us – a new Medicare item subsidising iron infusions in general practice so that more patients can get the treatment they need, when they need it.”

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