There’s a hole in your pocket

3 minute read

If you feel like your income as a GP is going backwards, that’s because it most probably is


If you feel like your income as a GP is going backwards, that’s because it most probably is

It’s salt on the wound for GPs every time the media splashes league tables of top-earning medical professionals.

The normally tense pre-budget weeks were brightened this year by a spotlight on the impressive income growth achieved by specialists, while GPs have remained strapped to the rack with a rebate freeze.

For RACGP President Dr Frank Jones, a news report accusing doctors of being a burden on the health system presented a chance to point out the growing discrepancy in pay scales.

“Every year GPs treat 85% of the Australian population and in 2015 that represented 140 million consultations, yet general practice expenditure accounts for only one third of total Medicare spending,” Dr Jones said.

“GPs are the specialists in primary healthcare – the specialists in generalism – yet since 2010 the vast majority of GPs’ income has remained stagnant.”

He asked the government to ensure GPs were “rewarded for the crucial services they deliver every day”.

The report, in The Australian, said surgeons had seen average incomes grow by $77,000 over the past five years, while anaesthetists saw a gain of $75,000.

It said the robust increases illustrated “structural problems” in the health system and quoted Nicholas Talley, head of the committee of Presidents of Medical Colleges, saying he expected overcharging to become “a formal agenda item”.

The scrutiny on high-earning doctors comes as private health insurers have made it clear they expect the government to help rein in healthcare costs to keep their products affordable, following a recent review of the sector.

WA AMA president Dr Michael Gannon told TMR that media attacks on doctors’ incomes were unfair, and the issue had nothing to do the sustainability of the health system or the value of health insurance.

“It’s a completely different debate,” said Dr Gannon, who is a Perth obstetrician.

Specialists’ fees accounted for only a fraction – some 10-12% – of patients’ private hospital costs, he said.

And criticism of urologists’ fees, for example, failed to mention the increased incidence of robotic surgeries for invasive prostate cancer, which cost more and are not covered by Medicare.

“If society’s got a problem with the fact that some of the most highly skilled people are at the top of the earning pile … I’d say it’s good news that we pay people well who are caring for patients every day,” Dr Gannon said.

“I am in no doubt that we as a community undervalue the quality of general practice services, and the mismatches between what GPs, procedural specialists and non-procedural specialists get paid are not appropriate.”

According to Australian Tax Office data for 2013-14, medical specialists swept 18 spots on the nation’s top 20 list of taxable income by occupation.

Male and female neurosurgeons earned $577,674 and $323,682, respectively.

For cardiologists, the figures were $453,253 and $215,920; for plastic surgeons $448,530 and $281,608; and for gynaecologists $446,507 and $264,628.

GPs, enduring the effects of the four-year Medicare rebate freeze, barely scraped into the top 50, with male GPs bringing home $184,639 on average and female GPs on $129,834.

GP consultations were last indexed by 2% on 1 July 2014 and are not due to increase until July 2018.

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