A proposal to introduce an upfront $6 fee to visit a general practitioner has been criticised by the Australian Medical Association (AMA).
A Commission of Audit, set up by Prime Minister Tony Abbott, has received a submission recommending the co-payment system for GP visits.
Under the proposal, pensioners and concession card holders would be exempt from the fee, while families would be granted up to 12 bulk-billed visits annually.
The Federal Government says the new fee is one of several recommendations currently on the table.
Health minister Peter Dutton has already said he would not comment on speculation of what the commission would recommend.
“The commission’s work is still being compiled and will be provided to the government in 2014,” Mr Dutton said.
But the AMA says the plan would discourage people from visiting a doctor if they are sick.
“There’s clearly a need to rein in costs, but I think this may not be the area they do want to look at,” AMA president Dr Steve Hambleton said.
“There are plenty of people now who actually have to choose, ‘Do I go to the doctor? Do I get a prescription?’
“If they had to choose again because there was more money required to actually access healthcare, we may find people not going to the doctor who need to go.”
Anything that dissuades people from being at their GP, getting good advice, keeping those chronic diseases in check and staying well, would be a concern.
The Federal Opposition says the fee proposal would effectively end the ability to visit a doctor for free in Australia.
Labor’s health spokeswoman Catherine King says taxpayers expect 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.
“Tony Abbott is now proposing that people should pay even more to visit a doctor, no matter how sick they are.”
Dr Hambleton adds that people who are unwell should be encouraged to go to a doctor early.
“Anything that dissuades people from being at their GP, getting good advice, keeping those chronic diseases in check and staying well, would be a concern,” he said.
Terry Barnes, a former senior policy advisor to Mr Abbott while he was health minister in the Howard government, authored the report outlining the measure.
He says it would change the way people think about visiting a doctor.
“You would basically be asked the question, do I really need to go to the doctor for this? Could I just look after myself?
“People don’t always need to see a doctor for things that they see a GP for, particularly minor things like coughs and colds and particularly flu in the winter.”