Soaring health costs ‘unmanageable’
The Abbott government may adopt a proposal to charge patients a $6 fee to visit the GP, Health Minister Peter Dutton indicates to Fairfax. Nine News.PT0M31S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-30afw 620 349 January 4, 2014
Health Minister Peter Dutton has flagged an overhaul of Medicare, warning soaring costs will make the system ''unmanageable'' without change.
In an interview with Fairfax Media, Mr Dutton gave the strongest signal yet that the Abbott government may adopt a politically explosive proposal to charge a $6 fee to visit the doctor.
While refusing to comment directly on the proposal, made by Tony Abbott's former policy adviser Terry Barnes in a submission to the Commission of Audit, Mr Dutton said Medicare Benefits Schedule spending had grown at a ''rapid'' rate over the past decade and some argued this growth was ''unsustainable''.
''In the end, we want to strengthen Medicare and we want to strengthen our health system, but we can't do that if we leave change to the 11th hour,'' Mr Dutton said. ''The threshold question is whether people want the health system of today strengthened for tomorrow, because at the moment the health system is heading to a point where it will become unmanageable.''
Annual spending on Medicare climbed from $8.1 billion in 2002-03 to $17.8 billion, an increase of 120 per cent.
Mr Dutton said when he considered the added pressure conditions such as dementia and diabetes would place on the health budget as the population aged, ''it's hard to understand where we are going to find money to pay for these services''.
Mr Barnes argued his proposal would deliver $750 million over four years in savings by reducing ''avoidable'' GP visits and reducing incentives for doctors to overservice. But doctors and health groups have attacked the proposal, predicting such a change would have the greatest impact on the poorest and sickest and risked overwhelming emergency departments. Labor has vowed to fight the fee, branding it a ''GP tax''.
Brian Howe, who as health minister in the Hawke government in 1991 introduced a fee for GP visits, this week stood by his decision, and said it was regrettable that Paul Keating as PM abolished the fee. He said his proposal was designed to manage demand for services.
But Mr Howe said he would be opposed to such a fee today, because it would be driven by a search for savings.