GP co-payment bristles feathers

The Federal Government provided a bit of a salutary downer to New Year celebrations when its Commission of Audit announced it was looking at making users pay for GP visits.Health Minister Peter Dutton is considering the plan to charge non-pensioners $6 their first 12 GP visits in a year.Terry Barnes, a policy consultant with Cormorant Policy Advice, is the person who submitted the idea to the Commission of Audit. Mr Barnes told Represent that “the fee that we’re proposing is actually based on the fee that was charged by the Hawke Government in 1991when they had a co-payment of $3.50 on GP services and that was abolished in 1992. $6 is basically that $3.50 indexed to 2013.”Labor, however, has resisted the idea, with Acting Federal Opposition Leader Penny Wong calling it “a tax on sick children going to the doctor”. The Greens have also voiced their opposition to the plan.Federal Shadow Health Minister Catherine King told Represent the move represents a desire by the government to “dismantle” Medicare.“The government’s basically saying, ‘We can’t afford to spend money on health anymore – what we want to do is start getting people to pay more for it and to start going to to the doctor for it’,” said Ms King.“[The government] is trying to trot out Medicare costs are out of control.”“What you have to do is look at efficiencies within that system.” ‘Not a big deal’“$6 is the equivalent, as I’ve said, of a hamburger and fries, two cups of coffee, or a schooner of beer. It’s not a big deal in the scheme of things,” Mr Barnes continued.“What we are concerned about, though, is that Medicare itself has to be sustainable into the future.”Minister Dutton has told the media that, although spending on Medicare has to be reined in, he won’t respond to speculation on exactly how that will happen.Represent’s panel of experts, Councillor Richard Foster from Melbourne City Council and Tom Carins from the University of Melbourne Medical Students’ Society, were unequivocal in expressing their dismay about the idea. A means-test on the fee would be one way to soften the blow, they said.Cr Foster spoke on the role of government.“One thing I love about being in local government is you get to deliver a helluva lot. You’re on the ground; you get to roll out programs that are directly funded by an arm of government. Talking to my colleagues in other arms of government, that’s surprisingly easy to do on a local government level, compared to being in state or federal government.“So I really enjoy that aspect of it. The principle of every arm of government is to provide services to the community.“I don’t think we’ve changed our name to ‘Australia Proprietary Limited’.“We need to get off this motivation to create a profit we have a budget. Now, I’m not saying we should be running budget deficits. We need balanced budgets but I don’t think we need the enormous surpluses that were squandered under the Howard Government for 11-and-a-half-years.” ‘Mixed response’Some Melburnians are “disgusted” about the move.One woman told Represent: “I think there’ll be a lot of low-income earners who will be significantly affected by the changes if they go ahead.”However, a man said, “Putting a price on a visit [to the doctor] may restrict demand for those necessary services, which reduces the doctor’s workload as well.” Listen to Represent’s special health episode here.Cameron Magusic

January 13th 2014
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