Seven months into the government’s new maternity reforms, only a tiny percentage of midwives are providing Medicare rebates to patients.
Australia’s 42,000 registered midwives were given access to the scheme in November and encouraged to reach collaborative agreements with doctors to provide government-funded maternity care.
But the government now admits that only 21 midwives have signed up to use the Medicare Benefits Schedule and the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, with those midwives providing only 1,210 Medicare-funded services.
Without Medicare, midwife services cost significantly more than maternity care in a hospital, but many midwives have been discouraged from the scheme because of the difficulty in finding doctors who are willing to collaborate.
Without this their patients will not be eligible to receive Medicare rebates.
The aim of the reforms was to provide greater choice in maternity services across the country.
The president of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists Dr Rupert Sherwood dismissed claims doctors are reluctant because of insurance concerns.
Dr Sherwood said the college has not warned doctors against collaborative agreements with midwives: “I don’t see that as a barrier … and obstetricians are fairly sensitive about their indemnity because it’s a major cost for a private obstetrician.”
He thought it more likely that doctors do not recognise the potential benefits for a different model of care or are simply too busy.