Government-owned health insurance provider Medibank Private has teamed up with the Independent Practitioner Network (IPN) to offer benefits to cover the expense of visiting a primary care provider or general practitioner (GP).
Currently being trialed in six areas around Queensland, the new program is about supporting access to GPs as primary care providers and reducing the pressure on public health systems across Australia.
"GPs underpin our health system, being the entry point for most people into the healthcare environment and are involved in all stages of the care continuum from prevention to treatment and rehabilitation," Medibank's National Medical Director Dr Ian Boyd said in a January 10 media release.
What does the trial involve?
The trial program is aimed at ensuring private health insurance members have access to a GP within 24 hours of calling and will not have to pay any out-of-pocket expenses. Additionally, members should experience more certainty over the price and availability of GPs.
After-hours services and a range of one-off health assessments will also be offered without charge from participating GPs.
"Closer collaboration with GPs, particularly in the areas of preventative health, choice and access to services is better for our members' health and also makes sense to Medibank from a business perspective. If we can keep members healthier and out of hospital it is a win-win situation," Dr Boyd said.
The offer is currently only available in six IPN Medical Centres in northern suburbs of Brisbane as the trial investigates the practicalities of the program.
"It is important to get the program right so that members are getting the most out of the initiative," Dr Boyd said.
If the trial proves successful, Medibank hopes to extend the program to more Queensland regions in March and April before eventually scaling up to offer relevant policies and premiums across other states.
"If the upcoming trials are evaluated to be successful and beneficial to all we hope to open up the program to a broader audience, including other GP clinics. We are encouraged by the initial feedback from many of the participating GPs and patients which has been very positive," Dr Boyd added.
How does this affect the health insurance industry?
Currently, the program is optional for GPs and members, and Medibank has no involvement in the clinical interface. This means the GP holds complete ownership over the clinical and treatment components of the GP-patient relationship.
"As a former practicing GP myself, I know how important it is for GPs to manage the health care of their patients. Medibanks aim is to provide GPs with more support to enable them to do this," Dr Boyd said.
In the past, primary care practices were off limits to health funds, with hospital services holding majority share over benefits paid out by Australian health insurance providers.
While some GP clinic owners fear this trial will encourage patients to switch providers, Medibank Private believes the endeavour is necessary to relieve pressure on public hospital services, in order to benefit the entire healthcare system.
Traditionally, the first time a private health insurer would know their member required medical treatment would be when they received the bill from the hospital.
This new scheme could help insurers support a voyage into preventive care and improve access to preventive measures.
"Obviously, if you're trying to avoid the hospitalisation, that means the people who are funding the care – who have a great interest in keeping people out of hospital – don't know until it is too late," Private Healthcare Australia Chief Executive Michael Armitage told The Australian on January 10.
If you would like more information on these changes to private health insurance benefits, contact HICA today.
HICA can offer expert advice when looking for a health insurance comparison and obligation-free quote for those considering changing provider.