Health Minister Peter Dutton says the Medicare system needs to modernised to be affordable, but he won’t say if GP co-payments will be part of the mix.
The Consumers Health Forum on Tuesday reignited debate on GP co-payments, when it released research showing that not only would they hit the needy, but they would fail to provide any overall budget savings.
Co-payments of up to $6 have been flagged as one way to tackle health spending as the government grapples with the budget deficit.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott has downplayed the likelihood of a co-payment being introduced, saying he wants the government to be “the best friend that Medicare has ever had”.
We need to modernise it and strengthen it.
Mr Dutton, who has called for a debate on whether the well-off should contribute more to their health care, said arguments for and against co-payments would be considered by the government’s commission of audit.
“That’s with the commission of audit at the moment – we’ll consider those recommendations in relation to this portfolio,” Mr Dutton told reporters in Canberra.
But he said if the coalition wants to be Medicare’s best friend, it needed to modernise the decades-old system.
“If we want to be the best friend that Medicare can have … then we have to recognise it was a 1980s model, and we need to modernise it and strengthen it,” he said.
“Because there are costs and threats coming down the line with an ageing population that can’t be paid otherwise.”
The Consumers Health Forum says co-payments could be counter-productive in reducing health costs, because people would delay seeking treatment and end up in hospital emergency departments.
Opposition health spokeswoman Catherine King said the introduction of GP co-payments would spell the end of universal health care.
“This will lead to a two-tier health system that looks much more like an American system than the one of universal care Australia has known for the past 30 years,” she said in a statement.