MELBOURNE,AUSTRALIA-FEBRUARY 24 ,2012: Photo of Rob Cooke CEO of Healthscope at his office in Melbourne on Friday February 24, 2012. AFR  / LUIS ASCUI

Healthscope CEO Robert Cooke. Photo: Luis Ascui

The chief executive of corporate medical provider Healthscope Robert Cooke says asking patients to make a small co-payment alongside their Medicare-funded doctor visits will not affect health outcomes and is an “inevitable” consequence for a government battling rising healthcare costs.

Mr Cooke said the proposed $6 payment for bulk billed visits to a general practitioner could act as “an important price signal.”

“For the government as medical costs continue to balloon with the ageing population, the capacity to pay is going to be severely stretched,” he said.

“I think price signals in health care are important. It’s not a free service, someone is paying for it.”

Mr Cooke said it was unlikely that the co-payment, which was proposed in a submission to the National Commission of Audit by consultant and former Tony Abbott health advisor Terry Barnes, was unlikely to influence a person’s decision to visit a doctor. The co-payment proposal would save the government $750 million over four years, according to its author.

Cap required

Mr Cooke warned that if the Coalition was to take on board the proposal it should come with a frequency cap on the payments to protect “vulnerable people in the community” such as those on low incomes or patients with chronic illnesses.

Healthscope operates 55 medical and skin cancer clinics across the country. Mr Cooke said over 80 per cent of visits to Healthscope GPs were funded by Medicare.

The private equity-owned company also operates pathology services and private hospitals and has been mooted for an initial public offering or trade sale in 2014.

Mr Barnes was a senior advisor to Mr Abbott when he was Health Minister in the Howard Government and was also a former advisor to former Liberal Health Minister Michael Wooldridge.

The lobby advocating for doctors, the Australian Medical Association, has come out against the controversial proposal, saying it will discourage people to visit their GP and that this will lead to increased hospitals visits and longer emergency room waiting times.