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Easing Australia’s moratorium on overseas doctors

New Zealand Rural General Practice Network
December 12, 2009

Concerns over easing of Australia’s ‘10-year Moratorium’ on overseas doctors

The easing of a 10-year moratorium limiting access to Australia by New Zealand doctors or medical graduates will have an impact on New Zealand’s medical workforce and could increase the exodus of professionals across the Tasman, the New Zealand Rural General Practice Network says.

An amendment to Australia’s Health Insurance Act 1973 - the Health Insurance Amendment Bill 2009 - has reached its final stages in the Australian Senate and is expected to become law in April 2010.

Under the existing Act, Medicare benefits in Australia are not payable for professional services provided by overseas trained doctors or former overseas trained doctors except in certain circumstances. Exemption can be granted on the basis that the applicant must work in an area of shortage, which has been a key mechanism for the Australian government to influence the distribution of the medical workforce to rural and remote areas of Australia.

This restricted overseas doctors from getting the Medicare benefit for 10 years and has been commonly referred to as the “10-year Moratorium”.

The amendment to the Act will primarily remove the restrictions imposed on New Zealand citizens and permanent resident doctors in respect of their access to Medicare benefits. Those who obtain their primary medical degree from an Australian or NZ medical school will no longer belong to the category of “overseas trained doctor” and “former overseas trained medical student”.

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The New Zealand Rural General Practice Network says the reality is that the lifting of the 10-year moratorium will be detrimental to the New Zealand medical workforce generally, not just the rural sector.

While there are positive initiatives in place in New Zealand to attract and keep doctors - especially graduates - in rural areas, they won’t counter the promise of better pay and conditions in urban Australian centres.

Initiatives in place in New Zealand to retain graduates include Otago and Auckland schools of medicines’ rural immersion scheme and the country’s recently introduced voluntary bonding scheme.

One possible benefit to New Zealand is that overseas doctors might use this country as a route for getting to Australia, which has more stringent general requirements on doctors wanting to work there.

Currently it is easier for doctors and graduates from countries with comparable health systems to come to New Zealand compared to Australia. The registration “pathway” to work in New Zealand is more straight forward.

Many doctors or graduates coming to New Zealand are usually doing so for the lifestyle and the clean green image. Only about 15 per cent of those coming through the Network’s rural recruitment agency NZLocums declare they are looking at either NZ or Australia and are comparing pay rates and conditions etc. Those looking for higher pay usually go to Australia. The vast majority of those coming to New Zealand through the Network’s urban medical recruitment agency, NZMedics, are doing so for the lifestyle.

The New Zealand Rural General Practice Network, the New Zealand Medical Association and the Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners were not asked to make submissions on the amendment to the Australian Act.


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