THE introduction of GP co-payments will cost Hunter patients $21million a year, according to the region’s federal Labor MPs.
The MPs said yesterday that a co-payment of up to $6 on every bulk-billed doctor visit would hit the most needy the hardest.
The co-payments, or ‘‘out of pocket’’ expenses not rebated by Medicare, are touted to save the federal government $750million over four years if implemented.
But the Consumers Health Forum released a report yesterday indicating the tax could be counter-productive in reducing health costs.
The forum says the scheme would decrease access to healthcare and further disadvantage those who could least afford it.
Head of the forum Adam Stankevicius said some patients would avoid seeking GP treatment and instead end up in hospital: ‘‘If a fee is introduced, evidence from Australia and overseas indicated it will keep some people away but is unlikely to reduce the overall cost of health care.’’
Using the latest bulk-billing data from Medicare, the four Hunter Labor parliamentarians say their calculations suggest the region would be hit hard. They claim the electorates of Newcastle, Shortland, Charlton, Paterson and Hunter could pay a combined extra $21million in fees.
The figures were calculated by multiplying the total health services provided in each electorate by six, the amount in dollars each visit would cost extra under the tax scheme.
‘‘We need to strengthen our primary health care and that starts with GPs,’’ Newcastle MP Sharon Claydon said.
‘‘Don’t make it hard for people to see them by introducing this new tax.’’
Shortland MP Jill Hall believes the proposed tax would ‘‘erode the benefits’’ of bulk billing.
‘‘This will not help our public health system and will simply put more pressure on other healthcare services,’’ she said.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott has downplayed the likelihood of a co-payment being introduced, saying he wants the government to be ‘‘the best friend that Medicare has ever had’’.
Liberal MP for Paterson Bob Baldwin said Mr Abbott’s comments should be heeded and that he wouldn’t comment ‘‘on another scare campaign from Labor’’.
Health Minister Peter Dutton has said that he would wait on the results of the government’s commission of audit process before ruling anything in or out.
He said arguments for and against co-payments would be considered and warned that the Medicare system needed to be modernised in order to be affordable.
‘‘We have to recognise it was a 1980s model and we need to modernise and strengthen it,’’ he said.
‘‘Because there are costs and threats coming down the line with an ageing population that can’t be paid otherwise.’’
Minister Dutton has also questioned whether the well-off should contribute to their own health costs.
Charlton MP Pat Conroy urged residents to sign a ‘‘Hands Off Our Medicare’’ petition, which is available at all Hunter Labor MPs offices.