News National Doctors attack $5 option for ‘bulk-billing’

Doctors attack $5 option for ‘bulk-billing’

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· AMA slams $5 fee plan

Doctors have launched a scathing attack on the prime minister’s reported refusal to rule out a $5 fee for bulk-billed GP visits, claiming it will open the door to Medicare’s destruction.

A national Commission of Audit has received a proposal to introduce a co-payment scheme for GP services.

Co-payments would see patients pay a fee for bulk-billed GP consultations.

News Corp Australia reports pensioners and concession card holders would be exempt from the fee.

Families would also be granted up to 12 bulk-billed visits annually.

However, the Doctors’ Reform Society says the avenue, if the Federal Government chooses to take it, would clog up hospital emergency departments.

President Dr Con Costa said it would then lead to the state governments introducing a charge for emergency department services.

“Introducing a $5 co-payment is false cost-savings,” he said in a statement.

“People would stop seeing their GP, ending up sicker and going to hospital – which costs thousands of dollars a day versus the current $36 to see a GP bulk-billed.”

Medicare was always about free point-of-service GP visits to help those with chronic illness, and so preventative health screenings would be available for all, Dr Costa added.

“… not just those living in leafy lower north shore suburbs,” Dr Costa said.

News Corp reported on Sunday that when Prime Minister Tony Abbott was asked whether he would consider a $5 co-payment for bulk-billed consultations, Mr Abbott said was not going to flag what might be in the budget.

“Other than to say we need a massive fiscal repair job,” he told News Corp.

The Australian Medical Association (AMA) has also expressed concern over the option.

AMA Dr Steve Hambleton told AAP if extra costs were imposed people would have to choose whether they go to the doctor at all.

Acting Greens Leader Senator Richard Di Natale agreed and said a co-payment would mean patients who needed health care thought twice before seeing a doctor.

“Tony Abbott’s razor gang wants Australia to move towards a two-tiered American-style health system where your health was determined by your bank balance,” he said.

Senator Di Natale said as the Chair of the Select Senate Committee overseeing the Commission of Audit, he would not let “them get away with implementing a brutal agenda in secret”.

A co-payment scheme was introduced under the Hawke government in the 1990s but was scrapped.

The Federal Opposition has called on Mr Abbott to immediately rule out any new GP fee.