$6 GP fee expected to hit low income earners hard

SLAPPING low income earners with a $6 upfront fee to visit the doctor would create a serious impost on struggling families, a Ballarat welfare leader says.

It comes after Federal Health Minister Peter Dutton was accused of softening up voters for the introduction of a GP co-payment after saying Medicare was unsustainable and those who could afford it might need to pay more.

Co-payments of up to $6 to visit the doctor have been flagged as one way to tackle the healthcare burden, sparking concerns the Abbott government will target the Medicare system in the May budget.

UnitingCare Ballarat deputy director Sue Adam said if the fee was non means-tested, it would be an impost on people doing it the toughest.

She said Uniting Care had 15 emergency relief cases every day from people struggling with their basic daily requirements for food.

“If they’re struggling to put food on the table, how are they going to be able to afford that fee?” she said.

“If someone doesn’t have this $6, are they not going to take a child to the doctor?”

Labor’s health spokeswoman and Ballarat MP Catherine King warned that Mr Dutton intended to “dismantle” Medicare by introducing a “GP tax”.

“The introduction of a GP tax will reduce access to doctors for all Australians,” she said yesterday in a statement.

Mr Dutton wants a national conversation on rising healthcare costs and says the government is considering ways to reign in spending as part of its commission of audit to cut expenditure across the federal budget.

Asked if he backed a co-payment, Mr Dutton pointed out many Australians already made a co-contribution when it came to prescription medicines and private health cover, while others were already paying to see a GP.

“I want to make sure that, for argument’s sake, we have a discussion about (people) on reasonable incomes whether we should expect to pay nothing when we go to see the doctor,” he told the ABC TV on Wednesday night.

“Should we expect to pay nothing as a co-contribution, and leave other taxpayers to pick up that bill?”

rachel.afflick@fairfaxmedia.com.au

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