31 January 2008

The New Zealand Medical Association (NZMA) today strongly criticised politicians and some commentators for their uninformed and misleading comments about a "cap" on GP fees.

"There simply is no widespread cap on general practice fees," said NZMA Chair Dr Peter Foley.

"While a minority of practices have entered into voluntary arrangements in which they agree to limit their patient co-payments for in return for increased patient subsidies, most practices are free to set their own fee levels and adjust them at any time. Their fees are in no way 'capped'.

"Under the contract between Primary Health Organisations and District Health Boards there is provision for a retrospective fees review process, so DHBs can review practice fee increases (for a standard consultation) which they think are unreasonable. This fees review process is bureaucratic and expensive, and disliked by GPs and their practices, but to date the vast majority of fees reviews have gone in the practices' favour".

Dr Foley said general practices are small businesses, in the main, delivering a vital community based health service, and they must remain viable to do so. This means that they must continue to be free to set and adjust their fees to meet their business needs.

Studies show that general practice in New Zealand provides high quality care to patients and the community, and general practice has a great track record in passing on the benefits of increased government subsidies to patients. This has been confirmed by Ministry of Health and Consumer Institute surveys, said Dr Foley.

"This constant harping on about the 'cap' on GP fees is misleading the public and is most unhelpful to general practice," Dr Foley said.