AMA's alternate co-payment plan gets mixed response

27 August, 2014

An alternate co-payment model prepared by the AMA exempting Australia's most vulnerable patients from the extra cost burdens of health care has received a mixed response from both Canberra and various sectors of the medical community.

Speaking to reporters last week, AMA President A/Prof Brian Owler said the proposed model was "a health policy, not an economic one".

"(It) protects vulnerable patients in the community, values general practice to encourage quality care and support prevention and chronic disease management, and it also sends a price signal for non-concession patients," he said.

What's being proposed

"We propose a minimum $6.15 co-payment (which aligns with the current bulk billing incentive) that applies to all patients, but the government will pay the co-payment for concession card holders and patients under 16 years of age."

A/Prof Owler said the model would also allow GPs the opportunity to spend more time with their patients, provide preventive health care and chronic disease management, and place a value on the essential service they provide.

Under the proposal, other Medicare items would also be excluded including chronic disease management plans, mental health treatment and residential aged-care visits.

Government half-hearted

Whilst he was open to the idea of negotiating whether children's visits were charged, Prime Minister Tony Abbott was dismissive about exempting pensioners from a $7 fee, saying they already paid about the amount for government-subsidised prescriptions through the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.

"I don't think it's unreasonable for a comparable amount to be paid for visits to the GP," Abbott said.

Minister for Health Peter Dutton said the government had staid concerns about the alternative model.

"I note that the current proposal put forward by the AMA with regards to the $7 co-payment will result in a windfall for doctors while wiping out 97 per cent of the government’s estimated savings," he said.

Health care "barrier"

The plan was downright opposed by others like the Consumers Health Forum, yet cautiously welcomed by regional doctors group, Rural Doctors Association of Australia (RDAA).

"A co-payment would erect a barrier to primary health care for many thousands of families and individuals who would not qualify for concessions," Consumers Health Forum Chief Executive Adam Stankevicius said.

RDAA Chief Executive Officer Jenny Johnson said she was pleased to see the AMA's model put emphasis on quality general practice health care, however asserted more work was needed to recognise the position of regional doctors, who frequently go above and beyond their regular line of duty for the sake of the communities they operate in.