Children and pensioners would have their GP co-payment paid by taxpayers under a proposal floated by doctors.
But the Abbott government has dismissed the idea as a $580 million windfall for GPs, saying it would erode 97 per cent of planned budget savings.
The Australian Medical Association (AMA) on Thursday released an alternative model to the government’s $7 co-payment.
It proposes a minimum co-payment of $6.15 but, unlike the government’s plan, none of it will go to a medical research future fund.
Instead it will be pocketed by GPs.
However, doctors want to protect concession card holders and children under 16 by having the government pay the co-payment.
Aged care and home visits would be exempt under the AMA plan, together with treatment for mental health and chronic disease.
Doctors also oppose the planned $5 cut to the Medicare rebate, which would leave them out of pocket if they don’t charge the co-payment.
Health Minister Peter Dutton, who has been considering the AMA proposal for three weeks, said it would slash government savings from an estimated $3.5 billion over five years to about $100 million.
AMA president Brian Owler defended what amounts to a pay rise for doctors, saying GPs should be rewarded for their frontline role.
It was about getting an investment into general practice and asking those patients who could afford to pay to make a modest contribution, he said.
The government is struggling to garner sufficient support in the Senate for the co-payment, with Labor, the Greens and crossbenchers opposed to its amount and scope.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said Labor would not support a GP co-payment of any type, and urged government to scrap the idea.
“If they’re going to back down part of the way, get the pain out of the way and just scrap the rotten idea,” he told reporters in Melbourne.
Greens health spokesperson Richard Di Natale, a former GP, said no amount of tinkering or adjustments could save “this dog of a policy”.
“Putting a price barrier between patients and their doctors is precisely the opposite of what we should be doing,” he said.
Earlier on Thursday, Prime Minister Tony Abbott said pensioners should expect to pay the full $7 co-payment, and indicated he was against exempting children as well.
He questioned why both groups should be excluded when they were required to make a contribution to taxpayer-subsidised medicines.
“Sometimes you’ve got to pay something to appreciate what you’re getting,” he said.
THE MEDICARE CO-PAYMENT:
What the government wants:
* From July 1, 2015 the Medicare benefit will be reduced by $5 for all GP visits.
* A patient contribution of $7 will be introduced and collected by doctors.
* Once concessional patients, such as pensioners, and children under 16 years of age, co-pay for 10 visits the Medicare benefit will be restored.
* The bulk bill incentive for GPs will cease for some GP consultations, pathology and diagnostic imaging services.
* $5 of every co-payment to be funnelled into a medical research fund.
What doctors are proposing:
* A minimum $6.15 co-payment that applies to all patients.
* The government to pay the co-payment for concessional patients.
* In regional and rural areas the government contribution will be $9.25.
* Doctors to keep the co-payment.
* Doctors may continue to charge more than the co-payment amount, as is the case now.
* No obligation on GPs to charge a co-payment for Medicare-funded chronic disease services, health assessments and mental health treatment items.
* Co-payment won’t count towards the Medicare safety net thresholds.
* Eliminating the 10-visit threshold.
* Defer for at least two years a co-payment on pathology and diagnostic imaging services.
* No money from primary health care for a medical research fund.