Co-payment is ‘poison’
AMA President Dr Michael Gannon has declared that the idea of a patient co-payment is dead, with no desire on the part of the Government or the AMA to see it resurrected.
Speaking following a meeting with Health Minister Sussan Ley, Dr Gannon told ABC News 24 that he thought there was no chance the Coalition Government would try to introduce some form of GP co-payment after two earlier versions were shot down amid a fierce backlash from the AMA and patients.
“I think that the co-payment word is poison to Government, and it’s poison to the AMA,” Dr Gannon said. “We opposed both versions of the co-payment back in 2014…[and] I don’t think that there’s any desire from either the Government or the AMA or anyone else in the health sphere to see the co-payments introduced.”
The AMA President said the evidence showed that even nominal out-of-pocket expenses would deter some patients from seeing their doctor, causing health problems to deteriorate and need more expensive hospital care later on.
The Abbott Government initially proposed a $7 co-payment for all doctor visits, which was watered down to $5 cut to Medicare rebates that doctors could pass on to patients. But both ideas were withdrawn following a massive public backlash and staunch opposition in the Senate.
Instead, the Government has extended a freeze on Medicare rebate indexation to 2020, which has been described as a co-payment by stealth because it will force an increasing number of GPs to abandon bulk billing.
Dr Gannon is pushing the Government to unfreeze Medicare rebates, and expects the policy to be gone by the next Federal election.
He said the tight result of the election just fought sent a clear message to the Coalition about how much the people valued access to health care.
“I think that the Australian people want their affordable access to see their GP, access to public hospitals. They’ve spoken. They’ve said that they are absolutely key things that they expect from their Government. They regard them as absolutely core services and I think the post polling, the exit polling, the private polling has told the Government that,” he said.
Instead of a co-payment, Dr Gannon said the AMA supported GPs privately billing those patients who could afford to pay, while ensuring there were robust safeguards in place to give the neediest and most vulnerable ready access to care.
“The reason the co-payment models of 2014 were so wrong is that they didn’t give individual doctors the ability to make those judgements. They also didn’t give the system the ability to protect the neediest in the community and we know that even small $5, $6, $7 out of pocket expenses are enough to stop some people from going to see the doctor,” he said.