A new GP business group is mounting a public campaign against Canberra’s deal to control pathology rents
A new GP business group is mounting a public campaign against the government’s deal to control pathology rents, which it says discriminates against doctor-owners and will erode their viability.
The Australian GP Alliance said the government’s pre-election deal with Pathology Australia would tip the balance further in favour of big corporate operators and make practice ownership less attractive for the next generation of doctors.
Canberra GP Dr John Deery, the alliance’s chair, said Department of Health officials at a meeting last week had shown no understanding of how the market intervention would affect general practice.
“It seemed like fresh news to the department that people would rely on this income to pay their rent,” Dr Deery told The Medical Republic.
“It’s putting the current business model of a lot of practices under threat. In practices that are bulk-billing and have co-located pathology collection centre, I don’t see they will have any other option but to start charging patients,” he said.
“The ultimate losers are going to be patients.”
Health Minister Sussan Ley struck the deal with the pathology lobby group, dominated by Sonic Healthcare, to silence a damaging protest against planned cuts to pathology bulk-billing incentives a week into the July 3 election campaign.
As a result, doctors who had signed expensive multi-year contracts for rooms in shopping centres on the assumption of stable rental income from pathology collection centres would come under unreasonable pressures, Dr Deery said.
“I can’t help but think some practices are going to close their doors.”
The policy, adopted with no GP consultation, had shredded the Liberal Party’s claim to be the champion of small business, he said.
“It does seem quite opposed to their stated values of supporting small business. It is the opposite. It’s looking after big business and crippling a lot of small-business owners.”
The group, formed two weeks ago, has launched an online petition and is devising financial models to show the impact on practices of different sizes. Founding members are contributing $5000 each to fund a legal challenge.
Under new rules to take effect in January, the “market rent” for pathology collection centres at GP-owned general practices will be redefined so GPs cannot charge more than 20% of an independent valuation of a comparable medical-suite rent.
Alliance members are furious that the changes apply only to practices owned by GPs or related entities, not those owned by unrelated individuals or companies, but will strengthen the hand of major corporate pathology interests.
“These changes fly in the face of advice from the (now disbanded) Australian Valuation Office, The Department of Health and Ageing’s previous investigation into this issue and (a) Grattan Institute report,” the alliance said in a letter to practice owners.
Dr Deery, the co-owner of two practices in Canberra with his GP wife Dr Mel Deery, said he did not stand to lose money from the changes, but he objected to the way GPs had been singled out and general practice was being devalued.
“They aren’t going to go to Westfield and say you have got to cut your rents. I presume they won’t go to a pharmacy owner and say, you can’t charge that rent. They are specifically discriminating against people who have a provider number – the GP owners.”
The time was long overdue for GPs to have an effective voice as a political advocacy group, he said.
“The AMA has been advocating for general practice, but it’s time for a GP-specific advocacy group. In fact, it’s probably 10 or 20 years too late,” he said.
The alliance can be contacted at:
www.australiangpalliance.com.au or email firstname.lastname@example.org