On 28 August 2013, the ACCC issued a draft determination proposing to allow the Rural Doctors Association of Australia (RDAA) and its state associations to continue to collectively negotiate with state and territory health departments, on behalf of rural doctors, for a period of five years.  The negotiations relate to the terms and conditions under which rural doctors, including GPs and locums, provide services in public hospitals and health facilities as Visiting Medical Officers (VMOs) and provide after-hours services. 

The ACCC considered that there is likely to be little or no competitive detriment in the RDAA negotiating with state and territory health departments on behalf of rural doctors, and found that there was no evidence of any public detriment under the existing authorisation, which has been in place since 2008. 

In terms of countervailing public benefits, the ACCC considered that the collective bargaining would result in cost savings and enable rural doctors to have greater input into contract terms and conditions.  The ACCC considered that this may lead to greater attraction and retention of doctors in rural areas, where access to medical services could otherwise be limited. 

The RDAA is also seeking authorisation to collectively negotiate with newly established Medicare Locals and Local Hospital Networks (LHNs), which have been established to provide tailored healthcare solutions in geographically defined areas.  However, the ACCC is not proposing to extend authorisation to those negotiations because it is concerned that they may reduce price competition and the scope to negotiate tailored solutions for each region.

The ACCC is seeking further submissions from interested parties before making its final decision.