GP co-payment ‘dumped’

The $7 GP co-payment, key legislation which the government has struggled to pass in the Senate, has been ‘dumped’. But GPs may still be able to charge to cover the proposed reduction in the Medicare rebate.

First announced in the May Federal Budget, the $7 GP co-payment, to apply to anyone wishing to see a doctor, but capped at 10 visits for concession card holders and children, faced immediate opposition from all sectors of the community. Having failed to gain agreement in the Senate, the government has altered the conditions under which a fee can be charged.

The new proposal will allow GPs to charge $5 per visit to cover the reduction in the Medicare rebate they will receive for patients. The rebate paid to doctors is to be reduced from $37 to $32 to enable the government to fund its proposed Medical Research Future Fund. Doctors who wish to charge this fee must provide consultations of at least 10 minutes. Children under 16, pensioners, veterans and those in nursing homes and aged care facilities will not be charged the discretionary fee.

In announcing the change, Mr Abbott said, “This is a question for the doctors, and what we’re saying to the doctors is for adults who aren’t on concession cards, we don’t think it’s unreasonable for you to charge a co-payment”. The government’s Expenditure Review Committee (ERC) has been considering the change for some weeks, with Cabinet giving approval yesterday, however, the package does still need to pass through the Senate. “We had good policy in the first place … we’ve got better policy now, and what we’ve seen here is, I think, an intelligent and sophisticated response from the Minister, from the ERC, from the Cabinet, from the Government more generally, to the quite reasonable observations of the backbench and the community and that’s the glory of our system,” said Tony Abbott.

Opposition leader Bill Shorten does not endorse the altered proposal, saying, “Tony Abbott today has tried to pretend that his GP tax is dead, but sadly for Australians his GP tax is still very much alive. The Abbott Government is still doing exactly what it is doing with the petrol tax, they are sneaking around the Parliament to put a tax on going to the doctor. This is a GP tax which Tony Abbott can’t bring through the front door, so he’ll bring it through the back door.”

Meanwhile, Clive Palmer believes the Palmer United Party is responsible, in part at least, for the government’s change, saying, “Prime Minister Tony Abbott has succumbed to our rationale and dropped the co-payment”.


Watch the Channel 7 report below

Opinion: Gone but not forgotten

The GP co-payment may have gone for now, but moves to allow doctors to charge $5 for a visit may still deter people from seeking medical assistance.

In the move to change the GP co-payment to something which will be accepted by Parliament, the government is essentially setting doctors up to be the ‘bad guys’. What GP isn’t going to charge the extra $5 he or she can to cover the loss in revenue forced by a reduction in the Medicare rebate? Many GPs already charge over and above the Medicare rebate they receive, with some patients having to pay in excess of $30 in out-of-pocket expenses for a consultation.

Creating a Medical Research Future Fund is all well and good, but if people can’t afford to see their GPs to access the breakthrough medical treatments, what’s the point?

Making changes to Medicare to ensure Australia has a sustainable health care system able to cope with the nation’s changing health needs is the right thing to do. But creating a Medical Research Future Fund when access to general health care in rural areas is difficult, and there is growing waiting list for much-needed operations and specialist medical services is simply egotistical and foolish.

Do you agree? Should the money withheld from GPs still be used to create a Medical Research Future Fund? Is asking GPs to charge patients the correct way to collect additional revenue? Do you think it will result in fewer GPs offering bulk-billing services?