EXPENSIVE doctors visits are a thing of the past for many, after the Eureka Medical and Dental Centre yesterday abolished co-payment fees for standard consultations.The medical centre now bulk-bills all appointments with general practitioners for patients who present a valid Medicare card. This comes less than two months after the doctor shortage in Ballarat reached crisis point, with only two walk-in medical practices accepting new patients.Medical centre spokeswoman Clair Cameron said the change back to bulk billing was designed to better serve the local community.“The philosophy behind the centre is affordable and accessible health care,” she said. “We trialled co-payments in a few centres around Australia because of government cut-backs to funding for general practices ... but it didn’t fit with providing for the community.”Ballarat and District Division of General Practice chief executive officer Andrew McPherson said the move was welcome, and would complement a number of other practices that already bulk billed.“It’s up to individual practices to make their own decisions about bulk-billing or charging a gap,” he said.“But all the other practices would bulk-bill healthcare card holders and would often choose to bulk-bill other patients for financial hardship reasons.”Despite Mr McPherson’s comments, Ballarat falls below the national average in terms of the percentage of patients bulk-billed, recording 75.6 per cent in 2009-10, compared to 79.5 per cent across Australia.During the same period Bendigo recorded 71.7 per cent, Corangamite 66.3 per cent and Wannon just over 70 per cent. Ballarat Health Services chief executive officer Andrew Rowe said the policy reversal would not only help struggling families, but would ease pressure on the hospital.“We welcome the change. We have seen a massive growth in patients attending the emergency department who would be more appropriately cared for in a general practice setting,” he said.