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Voters 'strongly opposed' to Medicare co-payment plan: poll

12 May, 2014

Most Australians oppose paying to see a doctor and believe a co-payment will simply mean more people going to emergency departments, new research commissioned by the Consumers Health Forum (CHF) has found.

The research released on Sunday (11 May) shows the public are strongly opposed to the idea of paying fees to see a doctor – currently 80 per cent of all doctors' fees across the nation are bulk billed.

The Essential Research organisation polled a large sample size of over 1000 consumers. The results show:

  • 72 per cent of people polled say a $6 co-payment will mean more people will go to emergency departments rather than pay a doctor's fee
  • 69 per cent said a $6 fee will discourage people from seeing GPs
  • 66 per cent of people say they are paying more on health costs than they were just 5 years ... a third of the poll said they were paying "much more"
  • 58 per cent said clearly they would not pay more to have GP visits covered by private health insurance
  • 72 per cent of insured people say their gap and other costs are higher than 5 years ago
  • The majority (57 per cent) of people believe there is a big gap in the quality of care between those who have private health insurance and those who don't

Co-payments will hit chronically ill and people on low incomes the hardest, Adam Stankevicius, CHF's CEO said in a recent statement.

The findings clearly underline the massive concern in the community about how a two-tier health system has developed in Australia as more than half of those polled say there is a big gap in the quality of care between those with insurance and those without, he said.

"If people have to pay to see a doctor, a lot of things are going to change. If they are paying $6, then many people who are used to seeing a GP at no cost are going to put off a visit. Any introduction of a co-payment will be a clear barrier to primary health care," Stankevicius said.

"It's our considered view that a GP co-payment will result in more people going straight to hospital emergency departments. It's feared departments could get flooded. This is why the Commission of Audit has proposed that state governments introduce a charge on low urgency patients attending emergency departments."

The CHF is "totally opposed" Medicare co-payments, according to Stankevicius.

"We believe it would undermine the principle of Medicare in providing universal access to health care. Experiences tell us that a significant number of patients are likely to put off going to the doctor because of cost," he said.

"This would come at a time when we need to be encouraging people to take a more proactive approach to their health, given the rise in chronic conditions like diabetes, obesity – all of which the GP can play a significant role in reducing through advice to patients.

"As it is GPs are seen as cost effective, particularly when compared to the much higher cost of hospital care.

"Australia is facing increasing health costs but there are other ways we can reduce these, by reducing avoidable hospital admissions.

"Australia's health spending is middle-level compared to other countries and we have one of the best health outcomes in terms of access to services and longevity."