The Coalition government has dumped its unpopular $5 GP co-payment proposal, admitting it was widely “disliked” and didn’t have the support of the medical community.
Health Minister Sussan Ley made the announcement on Tuesday afternoon, saying the government had “hit pause” on the policy to further consult with doctors and other key groups.
The key budgetary measure was expected to net the government $3.5 billion in revenue.
“It is clear the proposal for a co-payment and associated $5 cut to the rebate do not have broad support and will not proceed,” Ms Ley told reporters in Canberra.
“We recognise that we cannot introduce reforms to build a strong, sustainable Medicare without the support from the public and the parliament.”
Ms Ley said her consultations with “hundreds of local doctors on the ground” over the past six weeks had convinced her the co-payment could not go ahead.
She said it was part of a more consultative government which was listening to the Australian people.
Ms Ley said the government’s planned freeze on Medicare rebates until 2018 – which is expected to save $1.3 billion – would go ahead.
The decision was understood to have been made in a full cabinet meeting on Monday night, where Prime Minister Tony Abbott warned his colleagues to get on with the job of governing.
Mr Abbott said the Australian people wanted a government which focused on them, not on the internal working of the Liberal Party.
According to the ABC, several key ministers have been opposed to Medicare policies of Mr Abbott’s, including a proposed $20 cut to the rebate for consultations under 10 minutes.
The ABC alleges both Treasurer Joe Hockey and former health minister Peter Dutton were opposed to the cut, but were overruled by Mr Abbott.
An improvement in the government’s poll result, however, has given the prime minister some breathing space, with the Coalition now slightly behind Labor, 49 to 51 per cent on a two-party-preferred basis.
Liberal backbencher Dennis Jensen, who was one of the 39 MPs who backed the motion to spill the leadership, said the poll result was positive.
“The prime minister is changing the way that he’s doing things and I think that that is being reflected in public sentiment,” Mr Jensen said.
Royal Australian College of General Practitioners president Dr Frank Jones said doctors were aware of talk about the co-payment, but asked the government to go further.
He said the government should also consider removing the proposed freeze on Medicare patient rebates.
“GPs will be forced to pass on increasing out-of-pocket costs to patients, as the effective value for patient rebates continues to fall over the next four years,” Dr Jones said.