GP slams proposed health fee hike

A BALLARAT GP has branded a proposed new upfront fee for bulk-billed visits a “disgrace” that could reduce the amount of local doctors providing no-cost health services.

The federal government has so far refused to rule out introducing a $5 or $6 fee for GP visits as a way of saving the budget $750 million over a four-year period.

Health Minister Peter Dutton has said he would not speculate on the proposal, which was put forward by the Australian Centre for Health Research to the federal government’s Commission of Audit.

But Medicaid Medical Clinic director Dr Carl Grace said he had major concerns with the idea, particularly over how the government would implement the fee.

He said there were fears the government would cut the Medicare rebate to GPs and ask them to collect the co-payment themselves to make up the difference.

“If they’re planning on doing that, they will have a huge backlash from GPs and a huge loss in bulk billing,” Dr Grace said.

Currently, the Australian Medical Association recommends doctors charge a $73 fee for a standard 15-minute consultation, with the Medicare rebate $36.30.

Dr Grace said his Raglan Street North clinic was one of the few in Ballarat that still

fully bulk-billed, a service provided to people who were often struggling with other problems.

“The mum whose husband is an alcoholic and whose kid is sick, she doesn’t have $5 in her pocket,” he said.

“I’m providing a bloody good service seven days a week in Ballarat to people who haven’t got a lot of money. I think it’s a disgrace what they’re doing.”

Opposition health spokesperson and Ballarat MP Catherine King branded the proposed fee a ‘GP tax’ which would target Ballarat families.

“I am concerned about what additional pressure the introduction of this new ‘GP tax’ will have on an already struggling public hospital system, and what it will mean for local families dealing with cost of living pressures,” Ms King  said.

tom.cowie@fairfaxmedia.com.au

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