Health minister 'let down' by colleagues on co-payment sell

27 May, 2014

The proposed GP co-payment scheme is a practical measure necessary for the long-term sustainability of Medicare however Health Minister Peter Dutton has been "let down" by colleagues who have not sold it persuasively, according to a Howard government policy adviser.

"There has been too much emphasis on budget savings rather than structural reform of Medicare," Terry Barnes told The Australian (27 May).

"The co-payment principles should be defended because a price signal is needed to keep Medicare sustainable. But it needs to be seen as fair, modest and reasonable.

"Unfortunately, there are elements of the current proposal that need more work.

"The way the co-payment is currently designed is difficult to sell to voters. It is up to the government to explain how it will work and how it will benefit Australians.

"I think the co-payment should only apply to standard GP services. The government could accept modification while not compromising on the basic co-payment principle."

Being prepared

Barnes said the government should have been "tilling the ground" for the GP co-payment proposal months in advance of the federal budget, however in response to opposition from key health lobby groups now has to play catch up.

"The opponents have been running hard on this since it first became an issue last year. The AMA and the Doctors' Reform Society have been running a scare campaign on this and the government only joined that debate in a real way on budget night.

"Peter Dutton deserves credit for the way he has explained the case for co-payments.

"Unfortunately, he has been let down by his colleagues."

Appropriate balance

Dutton, in an interview in Canberra on Monday (26 May), said a health care system where "everything is given to everybody for free" was neither a practical nor a beneficial approach, and asserted the government had struck an appropriate balance with the co-payment figure.

"If you want to have a Medicare system going forward you have to have it growing sustainably and we have put in place a measure which means that people on higher incomes can pay the $7 so that we can continue to bulk bill for those people on lower incomes," he said.

"The days of hundred per cent bulk billing are over and you cannot bulk bill every person who comes through the door. That was never the intention of bulk billing; it was always about trying to provide assistance to those most in need.

"That's the principle we provide in this package and we believe it should be supported in its current form."