National Seniors has broken ranks with other consumer lobby groups by lending its support to a proposed $6 co-payment for GP services in its pre-budget submission to government released today.
COTA Australia, the Consumers Health Forum and the Combined Pensioners & Superannuants Association of NSW have all opposed the budget savings measure.
National Seniors chief executive Michael O’Neill said a safety-net-backed $6 co-payment was something consumers could handle and was preferable to a blanket increase in the Medicare Levy.
In its budget submission, National Seniors pointed to an overall jump in per person GP visits over the last 10 years and to concerns about deliberate over-servicing by doctors.
The lobby group also said Australians were accepting of a co-payment system for pharmaceuticals and were aware of the fiscal impact to government of rising healthcare costs.
“Currently, under a fee for service system, there is no incentive for consumers to adopt a more considered approach to their use of GP services and especially of the bulk-billing super clinics,” National Seniors wrote.
“It will deliver an immediate saving to government and a further saving as consumers prioritise those health conditions for which they see a GP.”
First floated by the Australian Centre for Health Research in its submission to the Commission of Audit, the GP co-payment is estimated to save government $750 million over four years and would include a safety net for concession card holders and families with children under the age of 16.
The fee would also be capped at 12 visits per year (totalling $72), after which the fee would no longer apply.
The federal government is yet to formally respond to the proposal, which has attracted much media attention and public debate in recent months.
COTA Australia, which advised government not to introduce the measure, said the co-payment would be ineffective and would disproportionately impact on low income individuals.
“We are already seeing 1 in 10 people putting off going to a GP because they cannot afford it. A new co-payment would increase that number and could lead to higher costs downstream as a result of people not seeking treatment early enough,” COTA wrote in its budget submission.
COTA said consumers’ out-of-pocket expenses for medical services had risen significantly with nearly 20 per cent of health costs now coming from individuals’ own resources.
The Consumers Health Forum said it was alarmed by the proposal to introduce co-payments for GP services, which it said would accelerate the trend towards a two-tiered health system.
The CHF said its greatest concern was the impact on low income families, older health care consumers and consumers with poor health and chronic conditions.
“The proposed changes would reinforce the trend towards a two tiered health system, one for those who can afford to pay, and a second best system for those who can’t. This proposal does nothing to address the reality that poorer Australians suffer poorer health,” said CHF.
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