Dec 12, 2014

A fairer way to increase co-payments

The government's "optional" GP co-payment will hurt those who need it most, writes Dr Ruth Kearon, former adviser to Nicola Roxon and a current board member of Family Planning Tasmania.

It’s clear from the reaction to the government’s “plan B” for the GP co-payment (making it “optional”, but leaving doctors out-of-pocket if they don’t collect it) that most health groups and experts don’t think the proposal makes any policy sense. Why, then, has the government been so insistent on pursuing a co-payment for GP services in the face of ongoing opposition?

Contrary to common perception, Medicare is a universal insurance scheme that provides a patient rebate, not a doctor payment, for medical services. Until now, this rebate has been universal, not defined by your income, where you live or whether you see a fully trained GP or a trainee. So regardless of whether your doctor chooses to lower his or her fee for professional services or charge you an additional $5, the government has cut the medical insurance payment for the service you receive.

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