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Mixed response to Coalition's co-payment backflip

10 December, 2014

PM Tony Abbott has dismissed the dumping of the $7 GP co-payment plan in favour of an exclusive $5 one as a policy backdown, telling reporters it was about making the system "work".

Under the new proposal the Medicare rebate given to doctors would be reduced to $5, and about 8 million patients – children, pensioners, nursing home residents and other concession card holders – would be exempt.

"We put forward a proposal, it was obviously going to have some difficulties in the Senate," Abbott said.

"The proposal we've now put forward is a better proposal than the one we brought forward on budget night."

PHAA: "cynical manipulation"

The PHAA said in a statement it effectively transferred the payment process to the GPs and bypassed the democratic decision of the Senate.

"This $5 cut in the Medicare Rebate is in effect a pay cut for doctors," said Michael Moore, President of the PHAA.

"This is a cynical manipulation punishing those who provide care in our community. Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Health Minister Peter Dutton should have accepted the will of the majority and respected the decision of the Senate."

Professor Heather Yeatman, President of the PHAA said: "Our GPs are being forced to do the dirty work of the government.

"Either they lose $3 billion from their own pockets over the next three and a half years or drag it from the wallets of the bulk of their patients. 

"This is simply unacceptable …  A universal health care system is one that provides appropriate access to the community without distinguishing on the grounds of ability to pay."

Professor Yeatman said the announcement was, however, not all "bad news".

"At least there is protection for the most vulnerable including pensioners, Commonwealth concession card holders, all children under the age of 16 and veterans funded through the Department of Veterans' Affairs."

Moore also said it was encouraging to see the government's initiative in reducing 'six minute medicine'.

"Adding an extra 4 minutes to the MBS Item for short consultations will encourage more considered and quality time to be shared between patient and doctor," he said.

"It encourages doctors to spend more time with patients needing a comprehensive service – an increasing issue when treating patients with complex and or chronic health conditions."

AMA: "disinvestment in quality general practice"

AMA president A/Professor Brian Owler said the policy would probably make GPs charge patients more.

"Don't forget that the GP runs a small business – there's rent to pay, staff costs," he said.

"At a time when general practice is in need of significant new investment to cope with an ageing population and more people with chronic disease, (the government's) announcement represents a disinvestment in quality general practice.

"The Government claims it wants to 'incentivise' quality general practice, but it doesn't want to pay for quality general practice."

Political response

The Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said while the ALP supported the move to allow patients' consultation times to be increased, the government was introducing a GP tax "through the back door".

"It's still a broken promise and I think every Australian knows that this is the thin edge of the wedge," he said.

Former PUP senator and now Tasmanian independent Jacqui Lambie said she remained unconvinced about the government's new approach.

"This announcement … smacks of policy on the run and smells of desperation after some bad election and poll results," she said.

Addressing the media on Tuesday (9 December), Abbott did not rule out launching an ad campaign specifying the changes.

Health Minister Peter Dutton confirmed on Wednesday morning the decision to run one was still pending but being strongly considered.

"If we need to provide information we will. I think it is very important, frankly, that we counter much of the misinformation that's about because this is a balanced package," he told reporters.

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