Extra funds for Medicare will cut costs, says AMA chief

THE head of Australia's chief medical group urged the Abbott Government to provide more funding for Medicare, to cut costs in the long term, in a speech on Thursday night.

Australian Medical Association president Dr Steve Hambleton told an audience in Canberra the cheapest way to save on health costs was to keep people out of hospital.

He said once people get to hospital, their care "becomes very expensive", and health funding would be better spent on primary health care and supporting GPs.

"Keeping people out of hospital is cheaper and it frees up resources, but it might need an increased investment from Medicare, not a decrease," Dr Hambleton said.

He said despite a raft of speculation about the future of Medicare in recent weeks, "the focus should be on spending money wisely".

"Australia must change the way it provides healthcare, where it provides care, and when it is provided for the major driver of health care costs - non-communicable disease," he said.

"Medicare needs to facilitate this."

Dr Hambleton said any focus on the cost, or price, of Medicare subsidies was "a bit misdirected", alluding to recent suggestions of a $6 fee to see GPs.

"The AMA strongly believes that 2014 and beyond must be the years of the GP who can deliver the right care at the right time to the right person," he said.

"Medicare must rise to the challenge."