Doctor’s fee proposal gets mixed response

A PROPOSAL to introduce an upfront $6 fee to visit a general practitioner has met with mixed local reactions.

Gilmore MP Ann Sudmalis said nothing had been decided but her office had already received many communications from constituents.

“There are always two sides to a situation, which is why the Commission of Audit has been put into place,” she said.

“Since this proposal, and that’s all it is, has been mentioned at the commission, I have had emails saying the upfront fee would make it hard to afford to go to the doctors.

“Others have said it will be good, as when they really need a doctor they will be able to get in and see one and there won’t be a lot of people there who don’t appear to need a doctor.

“But appearances can be deceptive.

“I think the commission is a good idea.

“We do need a health system that is robust and affordable but we also need to take care of customers as well.

“Nothing has been ruled in or out at this stage. We will wait and see what 

recommendations come from the audit.”

The plan, received as a submission to a Commission of Audit set up by Prime Minister Tony Abbott, has been criticised by the Australian Medical Association (AMA).

The proposal, made by Mr Abbott’s

former policy advisor Terry Barnes,

recommends a co-payment system for GP visits.

Mr Barnes said the government would save $750 million in four years by forcing patients who are bulk-billed to pay $6 to visit their GP for the first 12 visits a year.

He took his proposal even further, saying hospitals might have to charge a similar fee to stop patients clogging up emergency departments.

“To keep access fair and equitable, but also to ensure that resources are managed properly, the states could charge a matching co-payment for GP-type services in emergency departments,” Mr Barnes said.

The federal government said the fee was one of several recommendations currently on the table but no decisions had been made. Health Minister Peter Dutton said the government wouldn’t be commenting on speculation around what the Commission of Audit may or may not recommend.

“The government has committed to funding in health and to making sure our health system is sustainable and accessible into the future,” Mr Dutton said.

The commission’s work is still being compiled and will be provided to the government in 2014.

AMA president Dr Steve Hambleton said anything that dissuaded people from being at their GP, getting good advice, keeping those chronic diseases in check and staying well, would be a concern.

“There’s clearly a need to rein in costs, but I think this may not be the area they do want to look at,” Dr Hambleton said.

Labor’s health spokeswoman Catherine King said taxpayers expected free medical care when they pay the Medicare levy.

“I think when people are sick, they need to be able to access medical care. We already pay for medical care through the Medicare levy,” she said.

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