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The Red Tape Tangle Of Medicare

Red Tape Tangle

This week, there has been parliamentary attention towards the incredible waiting list for additional location provider numbers in Australia for doctors.

As a medical recruitment agency, we talk to Medicare every day to follow up on provider numbers for people working with us (especially for GPs and locums).

What we have here, though, is a ‘best of intentions, worst results’ situation.

For the most part, the staff at the other end of the phone are polite and helpful. That said, they are not generally the ones processing the provider numbers.

The people processing the enormous backlog of applications are never to be seen, heard, or disturbed. It’s almost like the Wizard of Oz – who knows whether there is one person, or a thousand people pulling the levers behind the great curtain of bureaucracy.

What we do know is this – provider numbers for unrestricted practitioners are taking over a month to process. That means that a GP is essentially out of a job – unproductive for 30 days or more. Sure, it is possible for them to start by using another provider’s number or one from another location, but that is often more trouble than it is worth – especially for patients needing Medicare refunds and medical imaging and pathology done.

In those 30 days or more, patients are not being seen. The community is suffering, and it is because of impenetrable layers of needless bureaucracy.

[Tweet “In those 30 days or more, patients are not being seen. The community is suffering because of impenetrable layers of needless bureaucracy .”]

I am not aware of a priority system for new and additional provider numbers. It seems as though a provider number for an intern is given the same level of priority as that of a GP in a one-doctor rural town.

Right now, there is no straightforward way to apply for an additional location provider number, aside from the mysterious, and clunky PKI system. Even then, it’s not really an online application system, but rather a way of reallocating an existing number.

Medicare claims that it bolstered staffing to cope with the new year glut of new provider numbers (largely junior doctors), but to the casual observer these staff members are not making a dent in the applications. And, they still closed for the holidays – at the time they knew they would receive the most applications of the year.

If the Department is unable to meet the needs of the community and the practitioners serving those communities, perhaps it is time for a change to a more efficient system, even a private sector one.

There are absolutely no technological impediments to a purely online system for applications. If banks, and other large corporations can manage to do it efficiently and securely, why can’t the government?

As a medical recruiter, I call on the government to urgently review the process for the provision of provider numbers, and encourage you to do the same. It is a woeful situation we are in, and it is especially grave given the state of the medical workforce in Australia.


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