GPs to charge residents under co-payment

Doctors groups have expressed concern that the Federal Government’s new co-payment model for GPs will negatively impact older people and residents of aged care facilities.

 

Doctors groups have expressed concern that the Federal Government’s new co-payment model for GPs will negatively impact older people and residents of aged care facilities.

The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) said that the model would effectively force GPs to charge aged care residents, while the Australian Medical Association (AMA) has also expressed its concern about the impact of the scheme on older people.

Under the co-payment model, all Medicare Benefit Schedule (MBS) rebates for GP consultations – including for surgery consultations, after-hours consultations, home visits and visits to aged-care homes – will be reduced by $5 and GPs will have the choice to absorb this reduced rebate themselves or ask patients to pay the $7 co-payment.

RACGP president Dr Liz Marles said it was not feasible for GPs to collect money from patients in aged care facilities or when they do a home visit.

“Many of these patients are cognitively impaired or are in a situation where their physical and/or mental state is potentially compromised. Providing general practice services benefits these patients by keeping them living within their communities for longer and avoid unnecessary hospital admissions,” said Dr Marles.

Dr Marles said the co-payment model reduces general practice funding significantly which has a flow-on effect to the health of patients who are socially or financially disadvantaged, including youth, homeless, those with mental health illness, and of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander decent.

“These are the hardest to reach patients in general practice. Instead of fostering a universally accessible healthcare system we now run the risk of them walking away completely if they are unable to pay the out-of-pocket fee,” said Dr Marles.

The RACGP said that, in an attempt to quash confusion surrounding the co-payment, Federal Health Minister Peter Dutton last week stressed GP were free to continue to bulk-bill concession card holders and patients under the age of 16.

“In these circumstances, any GP who decides not to impose the $7 co-payment will not be able to claim the bulk-billing incentive – now called the ‘Low Gap’ incentive – and faces an income drop of up to 25 per cent for a standard consultation,” said Dr Marles. “The government has abdicated its responsibility for the healthcare of the vulnerable in society. We are now faced with a system where healthcare comes at the expense to either the patient or the general practitioner,” she said.

Similarly, Associate Professor Brian Owler, recently elected president of the AMA, told reporters at its national conference in Canberra earlier this week that the association was worried about the detail of the program and its impact on “the most vulenerable”. He cited older people, residents of aged care facilities, those with chronic diseases and preventative health programs as his major concerns.

 

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