Patients who attend hospital emergency departments could face a fee if the complaint is deemed minor. Photo: Peter Braig
Patients who clog up hospital emergency departments with minor complaints, such as colds, could be charged a co-payment to see a doctor under a new healthcare agreement set to be introduced in Tuesday's budget.
As reported by Fairfax Media last week, state-run hospitals will be given the power to impose a fee of about $7 to stem a potential rush of patients from GP clinics to free public hospital emergency rooms.
In one of the most controversial decisions set to be announced in Treasurer Joe Hockey's first budget, the government will announce that a free visit to the GP will become a thing of the past for most patients, who will start paying a fee of about $7 for each visit. The new fee will apply from July 1 next year.
It was thought that such a move could result in patients inundating hospital emergency department rooms in a bid to avoid the GP fee.
However, the government is set to announce that the co-payment will be extended to emergency department patients to discourage that shift.
Doctors and nurses in emergency departments would decide who paid and who would be treated free of charge based on whether the patient's condition was a genuine emergency.
A spokeswoman for Mr Hockey would not confirm the introduction of the fee on Tuesday morning.
Last week, Mr Hockey said “there is no such thing as a free visit to a doctor”.
“Government services are somehow deemed to be magically free but of course they're not free, they are paid for by the taxpayer,” he said.
The government has argued that by making the patient pay a part of the cost directly, it could curb demand for unnecessary GP visits.
Health Minister Peter Dutton said in a recent speech that Medicare needed to be be made more sustainable.
“In our country with a population of 23 million people, the taxpayer currently funds 263 million free services a year under Medicare and, if we are to have a strong and sustainable health system in to the future, that figure is not sustainable,” he said.