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Pensioners hurt most by fees: researchers

Vulnerable: A study suggests the proposed Medicare co-payment will hit over-65s the hardest.

Vulnerable: A study suggests the proposed Medicare co-payment will hit over-65s the hardest. Photo: Michelle Mossop

New research has backed concerns the federal government's proposed Medicare co-payment will hit vulnerable groups the hardest and could deter them from seeking medical care.

The Sydney University study suggests the combined impact of the higher co-payments will hit those 65 and over the hardest. A pensioner couple will face additional out-of-pocket costs of $200 a year.

If the Senate approves the changes, the $7 fee will apply not only to GP visits but to out-of-hospital pathology and imaging tests from July 1, 2015. A higher co-payment will be charged for medicines on the pharmaceutical benefits scheme starting in January, meaning general patients pay an extra $5 per script and concessional patients an extra 80¢.

''The introduction of co-payments won't be shared equally,'' report co-author Clare Bayram said.

''It will particularly affect people who need to use more medical and related services, such as older people and those with chronic health conditions.''

The study examined clinical data collected from the university's ongoing national survey of GP-patient encounters. The Bettering the Evaluation and Care of Health (BEACH) program records details of visits to a changing random sample of doctors.

It found one in four adult GP visits involve at least one additional pathology or imaging test, meaning the minimum out-of-pocket cost for the consultation was $14. About 3 per cent of visits involved both tests or $21 in expenses.

The full impact of the co-payments and PBS changes will mean a self-funded retired couple can expect, on average, an extra $244 a year in health costs, or $199 for a pensioner couple, according to the study. The average patient with type 2 diabetes would face additional bills of $120 a year regardless of age, while families would pay $38 extra per child under 16.

Although pensioners with concession cards will only pay an extra 80¢ for each PBS script, they have more prescribed medications that will incur the co-payment increase than those without concessions. Hence, they would be hit harder by the PBS changes than self-funded retirees, the study found.

Dr Bayram said she was surprised by the size of the financial impact on pensioners. ''It really emphasises that it's not going to be evenly distributed,'' she said. ''These people need to use the services, they're not making a choice.''

The university's findings echo concerns voiced by professional health bodies. Australian Medical Association president Brian Owler said it was ''good data'' that bears out the issues doctors have identified with the planned co-payment.

''It actually shows it impacts the most vulnerable in our society more than anyone else,'' Dr Owler said. ''It's the sort of modelling that really should have been done before the proposal came out.''

A recent COAG Reform Council report found 5.8 per cent of patients were already delaying a visit or not seeing a GP because of cost. That figure rose to one in eight for indigenous people. Similar findings have been made by the National Health Performance Authority.

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44 comments

  • The Liberals don't care about Pensioners , never have and never will, they take their vote for granted , its time the Pensioners stopped their misguided support in the Liberals and shifted their votes

    Commenter
    John
    Location
    Wynnum
    Date and time
    July 07, 2014, 7:35AM
    • And it doesn't take a rocket scientist to work out who will be e most affected. Crikey, it's rather obvious isn't it.

      Commenter
      A country gal
      Date and time
      July 07, 2014, 8:33AM
    • $7 GP co-payment is a broken promise. Abbott and the LNP candidate, a doctor denied that they would bring out any GP co-payment policy during the Griffith by-election in QLD. Now see what happens. GP co-payment is not saving any money, not a cent, but will increase the cost to the bottom line of the budget. It won't stop anyone who wants to abuse the system. GP co-payment is not a good policy and will cause a lot pains and suffers of avoidable suffering for the patients. Medicare, universal health care, is dead and buried.

      Commenter
      land of oz, not yank
      Date and time
      July 07, 2014, 10:12AM
    • The hidden plight of many pensioners: Of late, there has been a huge increase in pensioners whom cant meet paying extremely high bills in which created VEDA to blacken their credit rating. This means even an online purchase of something minor will fail and companies including services are rejecting them based upon their rating saying they wont have capacity to pay.and many have got as far as $10,000 behind in bills.

      Commenter
      Brian Woods
      Location
      Glenroy
      Date and time
      July 07, 2014, 10:23AM
    • However come the next election Abbott and Co will persuade the Pensioners that the country is under threat from an imaginary foe and that a vote for the LNP will save them,Menzies did it with Communists under the bed,Howard with Tampa and nine eleven and I see the writing on the wall with "Stop the Boats"

      Commenter
      Bill
      Date and time
      July 07, 2014, 11:10AM
    • @John
      The pensioners don't care much about themselves or any other group. I don't think there is anything the Liberals and Nationals can throw at them that will make them change their vote. Abbott et al are very aware of this.

      Commenter
      DrPhil
      Date and time
      July 07, 2014, 1:11PM
    • They say after 10 visits the co payment stops, I don't go to the doctor 10 times a year

      Commenter
      Bev
      Location
      Redcliffe
      Date and time
      July 07, 2014, 1:30PM
    • Someone has to pay for those medical benefits. The Coalition is only asking the major beneficiaries to chip in a little. The actual cost per doctor's appointment is in the order of $60-70, of which Medicare only pays ~$38. The rest has to be borne by the long-suffering taxpayer. Our tax receipts are not going to be enough to pay for the burgeoning medical, unemployment, disability, and pension bill. We're not in trouble now, but we will be in a few years. As it is, we have more than $130b in debts. Our pension bill alone is $110b per year.

      Free medical services is not free - someone else pays.

      Commenter
      Rodrigo
      Date and time
      July 07, 2014, 4:01PM
  • Funny that I am on the DSP.I like many where I live have to pat a gap of $22 each visit to the Doctor. My disabled son I look after has to pay a gap of just over $40 when he visits his paediatrician.
    We pay $6 for our medication .
    The only ones who are Bulkbill are in the Major cities where they have super clinics ...

    Commenter
    john
    Date and time
    July 07, 2014, 7:42AM
    • No, I live in rural Vic and thankfully our clinics all bulk bill.

      Commenter
      A country gal
      Date and time
      July 07, 2014, 8:36AM

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