GP co-payment plan about to bite the dust?

08 October, 2014

In a telltale sign the policy could be all but dead and buried, Minister for Health Peter Dutton unexpectedly made an 11th-hour decision to hold back from introducing legislation for the contentious $7 GP co-payment plan into Parliament earlier this week.

Dutton had planned to brief the Coalition Policy Committee on Health on the legislation on Tuesday morning. His office, however, cancelled the meeting late on Monday evening, saying the legislation had been withdrawn and postponed indefinitely.

Dutton's spokesperson said the postponement was related to order of priority, and the government was refocusing on measures it had support for.

"The government has a number of important pieces of legislation to pass. Legislation is normally brought forward in accordance with timing priority and there is plenty of time for this legislation to be debated before its commencement," they said.

Emergency departments "choked"

The government's deferral coincides with a new report released on Wednesday by NSW Health which showed NSW emergency departments would be "choked" with an extra 500,000 patients if the co-payment plan was to proceed.

Dutton immediately hit back at the report's figures, saying they lacked credibility and had been "cooked up by union sympathisers".

Health outcomes "jeopardised"

Having been strongly opposed to budget policy from its outset Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) President-elect Dr Frank R Jones said he was pleased the plan had been deferred.

"The RACGP has long maintained its opposition for the introduction of any co-payment model, fearing it will jeopardise patient health outcomes," Dr Jones said.

"The co-payment model creates an additional barrier to a system already fraught with complications and would drive Australia toward a US-style two-tiered system leaving the 'have nots' even further disadvantaged.

"Every Australian deserves timely access to clinically appropriate primary healthcare regardless of their economic status, something the proposed co-payment model jeopardises."

Alternate general practice model

Dr Jones called on the government to replace the co-payment model with one that would drive continuity of care and quality in general practice.

"General practice is not the problem – in fact it is the solution to achieving financial savings in the Australian healthcare system," said Dr Jones.

"We know that a co-payment funding model for general practice does not contribute to any long-term savings.

"Australia needs a model that values and supports quality general practice, leading to better patient outcomes and reduced expenditure in the more costly tertiary healthcare system.

"It is this type of model that the RACGP believes would benefit GPs, patients and the government well into the future."