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Doctors shun Defence's new insurer

A DOCTORS revolt threatens to cripple military healthcare, with just one in 10 specialists so far signing on to a newly privatised medical scheme for the Defence Force.

Under changes set to be finalised on Monday, all Defence personnel being treated in Australia, including soldiers wounded in Afghanistan, will be handled by Medibank Health Solutions, an offshoot of the government-owned health insurer Medibank Private.

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Doctors baulk at defence health plan

Defence healthcare in Australia is shrouded in doubt because doctors are shying away from a newly privatised health scheme.

But the $1.3 billion contract to outsource treatment has sparked a backlash from many doctors who say the fees being offered by Medibank are too low.

They also say the changes compromise the professional relationships between GPs and specialists. Under the changes, military doctors who presently refer patients to specialists through their own trusted networks will instead make referrals through a Medibank call centre to ''preferred providers'' signed on with the health fund.

The Australian Medical Association and the federal opposition warn that military personnel might have difficulties accessing good-quality specialists because of the low take-up of the contracts.

The country's largest operator of private hospitals, Ramsay Health Care, was yesterday still negotiating with Medibank. Industry sources told Fairfax that Ramsay had significant concerns with the terms being offered.


Many doctors say the fees being offered are up to 50 per cent less than what they now charge.

Early results from an online survey by the AMA indicate fewer than one in 10 specialists now treating defence personnel will continue to do so.

Stephen Milgate of the Australian Society of Orthopaedic Surgeons said experienced and well-established specialists ''are walking away from the contract''.

Orthopedic surgeon Stephen Doig on Friday operated on what he said would be his last Defence Force patient, having spent 21 years helping injured air force personnel in Victoria.

''I've always worked for the army because I enjoy it,'' Dr Doig said. ''But the whole arrangement of this is totally wrong.''

Chris Scott, director of hand surgery at Liverpool Hospital, the nearest public hospital to Sydney's Holsworthy Barracks, wrote in a blog postthat the fees were too low. Dr Scott, who also has a private practice, wrote that it was ''unlikely that I will attempt to retain Defence personnel in my practice''.

Medibank executive Andrew Wilson rejected suggestions there would be clinical interference under the new arrangements and stressed the call centre would relieve administrative burdens.

''I don't think people have really understood what has been put in place,'' Dr Wilson said. ''This is not a change that will lead to any interference in clinical care.

He said 2500 specialists had so far signed on with Medibank, as had 3000 allied health professionals and 112 hospitals. More were expected. Australia has about 25,000 specialists.

Some areas such as the ACT, where more than 5000 defence personnel are based, face serious shortfalls, doctors say.

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