Warning that access to care will become harder with $7 fee

Reduced outcomes: Rashmi Sharma Photo: Elesa KurtzFederal budget 2014: full coverage
Nanjing Night Net

Medical professionals are disappointed by the introduction of a $7 payment for doctors’ visits, warning access to care will become more difficult for patients and it will burden GPs.

Bulk-billed patients can expect to pay $7 for a GP visit, out-of-hospital pathology and imaging services from July next year. For concessional patients and children under 16, the contribution will be for the first 10 services in a calendar year. The first $5 of the patient contribution will be injected into a new Medical Research Future Fund. The remaining $2 will go directly to providers.

Under changes to come into effect from next year, doctors will no longer receive bulk-billing incentives but will be paid a “low-gap incentive”, which they will receive only if they collect the $7 patient contribution.

States and territories will also be able to introduce the patient contribution for “GP-equivalent visits to emergency departments”.

Medicare Local chairwoman Rashmi Sharma said any measure that might decrease GP demand was not sustainable in the long term.

“At the end of the day, the people who go to a GP more often are the most vulnerable people within our community, who are going to need to receive that healthcare somewhere,” she said. ”If cost is going to become a barrier at a general practice area, then they’re going to have to go somewhere else and that’s going to be the emergency department.

“If we’ve got departments that simply cannot cope with the stress, obviously volumes of patients coming along, we’re going to end up with reduced health outcomes in those areas and quality is going to drop so anything that may have a flow-on effect to the emergency department is of great concern to us.”

Dr Sharma said more than 50 per cent of GP consultations in the ACT were bulk-billed.

She said the co-payment would hit the most vulnerable the hardest.

”I think it’s going to be very difficult to be able to deliver appropriate health care to these groups, so I’m not sure how it’s going to affect looking after those populations,” she said.

AMA vice president Geoffrey Dobb said access to quality primary health care would be more difficult for many Australians. He said the revised safety nets did not provide sufficient support and there would be greater red tape for GPs without adequate compensation.

Safety-net thresholds for patients who require a lot of medicines will be increased from next year.

Between July next year and June 2018, the Medicare Levy Surcharge and Private Health Insurance Rebate thresholds will not be indexed.

Other changes will have patients pay an extra $5 – or 80¢ if they have a concession card – for PBS prescription medications.

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