MPs all at sea over GP co-payment 'barnacle'

01 December, 2014

The federal government labelled their much maligned $7 GP fee a "barnacle" that would be removed, according to reports last week based on briefings from the Prime Minister's office.

However confusion has abounded since then with government MPs contradicting each other left, right and centre about its future.

Treasurer Joe Hockey and Health Minister Peter Dutton have insisted the policy was not defunct. Furthermore reports emerged on the weekend that Tony Abbott personally requested Hockey defend the policy despite the PM's office telling media otherwise.

More recently, Abbott has said although the government remains committed to introducing the co-payment, the final design was subject to change and negotiation.

"We support the co-payment, always have and will, until such time as a satisfactory arrangement is negotiated with people in the Senate," Abbott told reporters on Monday.

"Bloody difficult policy to sell"

South Australian Liberal MP Andrew Southcott said he believed the policy would inevitably be dumped due to its overwhelming unpopularity.

"My working assumption is that the $7 co-payment is not proceeding and that the government is looking at alternatives to address the sustainability of Medicare," he said.

Victorian Liberal MP backed Abbott's most recent stance, telling the ABC: "I can assure you that it is our policy and there are good reasons for it."

Queensland National MP George Christensen was one of several MPs to publicly acknowledge the quandary the government had created for itself, calling it a "bloody difficult policy to sell".

"We'll have to wait until all the barnacles are scraped off to know what we're advocating in terms of government policy that hasn't made it through the parliament yet," he said.

Time to move on

The Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association (AHHA) called on the government to forgo further vigorous debate and "move on".

"(The proposed policy) is clearly unacceptable to much of the Australian electorate and our health leaders … (the government needs to) look at alternative strategies for savings in the health sector," said Alison Verhoeven, AHHA Chief Executive.

The GP fee legislation has not been introduced into the house or been put to the test in the upper house.