Doctor warns co-payment scheme will see practices fold
A SUNSHINE Coast doctor has warned the Federal Government's proposed co-payment could drive general practices to close within six months because of the financial burden.
The Australian Medical Association has vowed to challenge the doctor visit co-payments.
It proposes that doctors waive the co-payment for exceptional circumstances, without financial penalty incurred by the doctor, and to ensure practices are properly funded to cover the initial and ongoing costs of collecting co-payments.
AMA president Dr Steve Hambleton said it was reasonable for people with appropriate means to make a contribution towards the costs of seeing a doctor, but the co-payments announced in the Budget could hurt the most needy and vulnerable.
"Encouraging patients to access this part of the health system reduces pressure on the hospital sector and can avoid the need for more expensive medical interventions," he said.
Sunshine Coast doctor Mason Stevenson, the AMA Queensland spokesman, said if co-payments started on July 1 next year, GPs would lose the $9 bulk billing incentive and $5 reduction in the Medicare rebate.
"This will be a $14 reduction per standard consultation on the Sunshine Coast, which is financially non-viable," he said.
"We will see the closure of many small-to-medium size GPs' practices because of the financial strain."
Dr Stevenson said the AMA was concerned that if poor or sick patients did not see their doctor in a timely fashion because of the $7 fee then it would end up costing more.
"A patient may save $7 but may end up using an ambulance trip to the hospital, which costs between $500 and $1000 depending on how far they are away from the hospital, consuming emergency department beds, which cost between $200 and $500, and more likely to occupy hospital beds on the Sunshine Coast which are estimated to cost $1500 per day," he said.
"This is a totally false economy saving on the part of the government with enormous cost shifting to the Queensland Government and all other state governments who are responsible for ambulance services, emergency departments and public hospital beds."