- On January 10, 2020
- January / February 2020
FROM THE CEO
What happens when Stephen Duckett has a bad day?
Once again Stephen Duckett wheels out another tired ‘greedy doctor’ headline. But focusing on the fees of a minority of medical professionals does little to lift the discussion about health.
The answer is nothing. When Stephen Duckett has a hard day at the think tank there are few consequences. When he goes home at night he can relax – with a cookie in hand – and tell himself ‘at least nobody died today’.
So-called ‘greedy doctors’ don’t have that luxury. Every day they make decisions that have huge impacts and long-lasting consequences for the patients they treat. Doctors take on a huge responsibility in caring for patients. Should doctors be paid well for the risks and liabilities they face? Is it ‘greedy’ to expect that after spending 15 years of your life studying and training to one day become a specialist, that you should be able to charge a fee that you feel reflects your expertise and knowledge?
I’ve spent the last 20 years of my life working for doctors, and I can safely say I’ve met hundreds of medical professionals in that time. While doctors are individuals, they tend to share quite a few commonalities. Almost every single one has chosen this career because they want to help people. Doctors recognise the unique privilege they have in being present at some of the most critical points in a patient’s life – the birth of a child, a cancer diagnosis, the death of a parent… these are the moments that shape and define people’s lives. Being involved in these moments doesn’t just happen. Doctors study and train for years on end, making hundreds of little and big sacrifices along the way. They miss meals, bathroom breaks, kids’ birthdays and important milestones. And yes, they get paid. No one is suggesting sainthood. But it is insulting to use a ‘greedy doctor’ headline (only to qualify that statement in the 17th paragraph by indicating this refers to a ‘small minority of specialists’) to push one’s policy reform agenda.
A think tank shouldn’t have to use clickbait to sell its ideas.
The AMA has consistently called out doctors who charge exorbitant fees. But to paint doctors as ‘greedy’ masks the problem that the Government’s indexation of Medicare rebates has never kept pace with the rising costs of medical practice. On average AWE and CPI increase by 3% per year. Practice costs rise by the same amount. By comparison, Medicare rebates only increased by 1.7% on average per year. Very clearly, this discrepancy is a major contributing factor to gap fees.
If we want to address out of pocket costs, then there needs to be greater discourse on Medicare rebates.