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Call to pay back pensioners for $7 GP fee

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Budget crunch time

The Government is still trying to pass budget measures as the legislative cliff of the new senate looms.

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Pensioners should get a pay rise to compensate them for the proposed $7 Medicare fee to shepherd the controversial measure through a hostile Senate, according to the man who restarted the debate about free healthcare.

Terry Barnes, a policy consultant who worked for Tony Abbott when he was health minister, proposed a $6 fee to see the doctor in a submission to the Commission of Audit last year.

The Abbott government's proposal to charge patients $7 for GP visits, pathology and diagnostic imaging was influenced by Mr Barnes' proposal but differs in several respects.

Mr Barnes told Fairfax Media that just as previous governments had compensated vulnerable groups for tough changes such as the GST and the carbon tax, the government should consider boosting the payments of carers and age and disability support pensioners to soften the impact of the Medicare fee.

Under the Coalition proposal, concession card holders and children would be bulk-billed after paying the fee 10 times in a year.

''If the proposed safety net is 10 services or $70 a year, then a one-off adjustment of $70 would be not unreasonable,'' Mr Barnes said.

Mr Barnes said such an arrangement would still encourage people to value their healthcare, ''but it would blunt the criticism that it is inherently unfair''.

To make the fee easier to administer, Mr Barnes said it should not be collected from residents of aged care homes and could be dropped to as low as $5.

Mr Barnes praised the government's political courage for proposing the fee, but said the most important thing was that the fee became law and introduced a price signal into the system even if this meant making concessions that shrunk the savings to the budget.

''What's on the table almost certainly won't pass,'' he said.

To get the measure through the Senate, the Coalition will need the support of either Labor or the Greens or the Palmer United Party and other crossbenchers.

Labor health spokeswoman Catherine King said on Monday it could not support the fee in any circumstances, adding ''it's telling that even the lone voice for this policy thinks the government has gone too far''.

Greens health spokesman Richard Di Natale called on the government to ditch the idea.

''No amount of tinkering will change the fact that a Medicare co-payment targets the pooor and vulnerable,'' Senator Di Natale said.

Palmer United Party leader Clive Palmer said: ''It's over. There'll be no co-payment.''

But Health Minister Peter Dutton said the proposed 10-visit cap provided a ''comprehensive and appropriate safety net''.

Mr Dutton said that when former Labor prime minister Bob Hawke introduced a $3.50 fee for GP visits in 1991 (later scrapped by his successor, Paul Keating), he argued it was ''very difficult to suggest'' that sum, which is roughly equivalent to $6.40 in today's dollars, would ''create great hardship''.

''For these reasons, we're confident that people will see the reasoning behind what we're trying to do,'' he said.

''If you look at the commentary surrounding this measure, it's interesting to note that people are no longer opposing it, but rather considering for themselves how we can make it work. That's extremely pleasing.''

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97 comments

  • 'Under the Coalition proposal, concession card holders and children would be bulk-billed after paying the fee 10 times in a year.'

    I live in a country town where the doctors do not bulk bill by agreement. It is a form of collusive tendering. Repeat prescriptions can be obtained by a phone call at a fee of $7 per script, which doubles for late payment. The surgeries will not accept credit card payment for bills less than $20, so that often means a cash advance on the card. So where does the $7 co-payment fit into the picture ?
    As far as I am concerned they can all bugger off. Australia is stuffed, and I don't want to know about it.

    Commenter
    adam
    Location
    yarrawonga
    Date and time
    June 17, 2014, 7:33AM
    • I agree....shocking circumstances for rural people, weird that even though this gov is doing all this stuff that many of them still say they will vote nats or libs I feel.

      And the whole medical system needs a complete going over, because the DRs union and other medical services(xrays, dentists, etc) seems to have created a rentier type monoply on their professions, causing many people to have to pay huge out of pocket expenses for many services.

      I know many people with missing teeth, or no teeth, and people who have such bad arthritis they cannot walk, but the Drs fees and dentist fees are too expensive, so they don't bother going to them, and the public service has huge waiting lists....they say they are just waiting to die.

      Commenter
      Gav
      Date and time
      June 17, 2014, 9:29AM
    • This proposed rebate of $70 to the pensioner for $7 GP visit is to soften up the public to pass the GP co-payment. Whether the GP co-payment is $70 or 70 cents is a bad policy. This propose rebate is a magician job to pass the GP co-payment and later on, The LNP can increase the co-payment to $50, $70 or even more, who knows. The purpose of this GP co-payment is the beginning of killing universal healthcare. Medicare is dead and buried.

      Commenter
      believe it or not
      Date and time
      June 17, 2014, 10:02AM
    • Thankfully here both local towns bulk bill and so too in the regional small city. Mind you the closest clinic is like a turnstile, part of a chain that is buying out private practices across Vic and NSW. The way this absurd co payment scheme is headed, it'll take more to administer than raise in revenue.
      I'm hopeful it won't get through the Senate.

      Commenter
      A country gal
      Date and time
      June 17, 2014, 11:03AM
    • Agree. This madness is shot full of holes. I'm a (retired) self-supporting-poor-person, so I live on less than the pension. I receive no welfare payments from the Commonwealth. My only contribution from government of any shape is my Seniors Card (travel concession), and whatever I use of Medicare - usually one visit per year to family medical practice (flu shot). No rates rebates, no energy bill concessions. No, none of those. This government wants more people to be self-sufficient and then whacks them over the head, in the hip pocket, and insults them, for doing what they ask. Pensioner is not the only class of fixed income citizen. And coupled with the recently released report proving that Australia is less welfare dependent than in years past, you'd have to wonder whether Canberra needs more psychiatrists-in-residence to examine those blunt-minded idiots whom we pay to "govern us".

      Commenter
      Witnessing Incompetence Writ Large
      Date and time
      June 17, 2014, 11:03AM
    • Just how much red tape does all this generate? More paperwork, more costs, with little actual government income generated.

      Commenter
      Econorat
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      June 17, 2014, 11:12AM
    • Well well what a performance... We all know we should get everything for nothing. How dare you be asked to pay a fee. Not fair at all. The country will be stuffed if we dont fix it now, but I expect that is a little beyond you. Wake up. ( Where the hell is Yarrawonga,? ) Im a 79 year old self funded retiree who get no concessions whatsover, and I grow a little tired of whingers, whinging about being expected to pay their way. A whole 7 dollars ,my God how terrible. Have you thought of starting a whingeing club, with a prize for the best whingers of the year? I can see people lining up to compete. I hope he cuts out all social services payments especially the 50000 dollars a year to the un married mothers, 50000 free of tax, what a joke while the father pays nothing. Get over it.

      Commenter
      Bob Young
      Location
      Gold Coast
      Date and time
      June 17, 2014, 11:17AM
    • hi Country Gal,

      The problem is that the clinics currently bulk billing, like mine, will likely stop bulk-billing because the co-payment will not compensate them for the increased costs and they will lose income.

      The co-payment, in real terms, will be more than $7 for most patients currently bulk-billed.

      Commenter
      Ross
      Location
      MALLABULA
      Date and time
      June 17, 2014, 12:19PM
    • I was a self-funded retiree until the GFC and a divorce ravaged my super. Nice to be smugly self-sufficient though. As with the asylum seekers, perhaps we should take care of the Kharma seeds we sow when we throw stones - could come back to bite us on the bum ?

      Commenter
      adam
      Location
      yarrawonga
      Date and time
      June 17, 2014, 12:26PM
    • A country Girl.
      The bulk billing clinics tried to go to you pay $30 to see the dr, they had to implement money handling procedures, eftpos/credit card facilities, extra paperwork, debt collectors (medicare sent the cheque to the patient who then had to take it back to the practice), It was messy and expensive. It lasted a whole 6 months before they went back to being a bulk billing clinic.

      At best it adds a complex layer of extra administration to all practices (and pathology and chemists) for very little return. From a government that is trying to reduce red tape.

      Commenter
      Jess
      Location
      here
      Date and time
      June 17, 2014, 12:55PM

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