Doctor says scheme will not work

THOSE who can least afford it will suffer the most under a proposed co-payment scheme for GP consultations, the Tamworth-based president of the Rural Doctors’ Association of Australia (RDAA) says.

It’s been revealed a national Commission of Audit has received a recommendation from the Australian Centre for Health Research for the Abbott government to consider charging patients a $5 fee for bulk-billed GP visits.

The argument is such a fee would discourage unnecessary visits to the doctor and leave more appointments for those who really needed them.

Dr Ian Kamerman, elected to the helm of the RDAA in November, disagrees, joining the chorus of critics who argue it would limit access to GPs for some sections of the community and rather than saving money, would actually increase health costs in the long run.

He said it had the potential to increase the pressure on public hospital emergency departments and also discourage people from visiting a doctor when they really needed to.

“It’s not going to do what it’s designed to do,” he said.

“Rather than reducing the pressure on the budget, you will get people presenting to hospital later and sicker, thereby increasing health expenditure.”

The proposal is believed to include an exemption for pensioners and concession card holders, and families would also be granted up to 12 bulk-billed visits annually, but it would still hurt.

“It’s untargeted – in the bush there’s poorer (health) outcomes to start with so all you’re doing is harming the people you’re trying to help,” Dr Kamerman said, arguing it was essentially reducing the Medicare rebate by $5 and “introducing a barrier we don’t need in Australia”.

Federal Health Minister Peter Dutton has refused to comment on the proposal at this stage, saying “the commission’s work is still being compiled and will be provided to the government in 2014”.

Dr Kamerman acknowledged an increasing number of practices were eliminating bulk-billing, and that the government would be better off considering ways to boost these rates, including reinstating indexation of the Medicare rebate.

The Leader’s Facebook page attracted dozens of comments on the proposal, many critical of yet another hit to the hip pocket and many more lamenting the low number of bulk-billing practices in Tamworth.

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