Tuesday, May 28, 2024

“GP tax” burden

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A trip to the doctor is expected to soar by an extra $12 per visit under a State Government bid to claw payroll tax out of independent GP clinics.

Following a brief amnesty, the extra $12 charges for GP visits will go straight into State Government coffers.

South Easterner Ben Hood MLC slammed the government in State Parliament last week and reminded it of its pre-election promises – no new taxes, no increased taxes.

Highlighted during a debate in the Upper House was the extra pressure a hike in GP fees would put on hospital emergency departments.

“Did the Malinauskas Government not get the memo that South Australia is facing an unprecedented ambulance ramping crisis?” Mr Hood asked.

“Have they not heard of the spiralling cost of living and costs of doing business that have seen so many small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) go into receivership?

“Maybe they overlooked the massive $700 increase in power bills in the two years since they’ve been in office?”

Mr Hood said regional SA was already struggling to attract GPs and “it is obvious that this policy change will only further increase that difficulty”.

“This tax grab comes at a time when Country Health Connect are withdrawing nursing services from towns across the South East, such as Lucindale, Coonalpyn and Tintinara.,” Mr Hood said.

He highlighted the issues facing Millicent – for the first time in living memory, its medical clinic had been unable to secure a registrar. It had the lowest number of doctors in 50 years.

Yet the government was wanting to impose a GP tax “at a time when there is just one registrar available across the whole of the Limestone Coast right now, when in the second half of 2023 we had 15 registrars for our region,” he said.

“For Millicent GP, Dr James Bushell, he cites poor remuneration – when compared with locum and specialist work – as one of the exacerbating reasons for this problem.

“Clearly then, any added impost to GPs cannot be sustained at this time.

“Dr Bushell, in expressing his views over social media, wrote – and I quote – `If we lose just one GP at the Medical Clinic Millicent, it will be a disaster’.”

Mr Hood explained running a general practice was akin to being a small business owner.

“Everyone in this place knows how much South Australian businesses are desperately struggling with rising costs of doing business right now,” Mr Hood said.

“To enforce payroll taxes onto GPs is a clear breach of faith with the South Australian community, whom this Malinauskas Government promised – in no uncertain terms prior to the election – that there would be no new taxes and no tax increases.”

Mr Hood highlighted National Rural Health Alliance statistics from last December – rural men were 2.5 times – and rural women were 2.8 times – more likely to die from potentially avoidable causes than those in urban areas.

“Additionally, small rural towns of less than 5,000 people have access to almost 60 percent fewer health professionals per capita than those living in major cities,” Mr Hood said.

“As the Royal College and the AMA have warned, the consequence of this government decision will impact the GP workforce. Older GPs will look to retire, while younger GPs who wish to open their own practice will think twice about doing so, given the added impost.

“Mr President, regional South Australians cannot afford to lose any more primary healthcare providers than they already have.”

“I reiterate my support for this motion and condemn the Malinauskas Government for their short-sighted and grubby GP tax grab.”

The motion Mr Hood supported is now a six point one by SA Best Connie Bonaros who moved that the Legislative council:-

  • Recognises the significant impact that the cessation of the payroll tax amnesty for independent general practitioners will have on South Australians;
  • Acknowledges that the discontinuation of the amnesty threatens to exacerbate existing workforce challenges and reduce access to essential healthcare services for many South Australians;
  • Acknowledges the potential consequences of an average fee increase of $12 per standard consultation comes at a time of heightened cost-of-living concerns, further burdening individuals and families.
  • Recognises that such a financial strain may drive patients towards already overcrowded emergency departments, or deter them from seeking health care altogether.
  • Notes that the Queensland Government has provided a payroll tax ruling clarifying that patients’ fees paid directly to a medical practitioner for their services would not be subject to payroll tax; and
  • Calls upon the Malinauskas government to extend the amnesty until 30 June 2025 and pause any retrospective payroll tax bills for independent general practitioners to facilitate meaningful consultation with stakeholders to collaboratively work towards a long-term solution that prioritises the wellbeing of South Australians.

Speaking on behalf of the SA Government, Labor’s Russell Wortley MLC explained its position and said that a number of medical practices “have not accurately understood the contractor provisions of the Payroll Tax Act 2009”.

The Naracoorte News, 17 April 2024

This article appeared in the Naracoorte Community News.

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