Dr Ewen McPhee
Dr Ewen McPhee Kaitlyn Gutzke

Trip to GPs more costly for CQ

WITH tough times pulling at the purse strings of Central Highlanders, a simple trip to the doctor will be more costly.

Although the initial $7 co-payment was scrapped, the Federal Government is cutting the Medicare rebate paid to doctors by $5 a visit which means it will be up to doctors to decide whether to make up the shortfall by charging what the government has called an "optional co-payment".

Emerald's Dr Ewen McPhee said the changes would lift the cost of providing care to the detriment of rural medical practitioners and patients.

"General practitioners will pass this tax on to patients, especially in rural areas as the costs of delivering care cannot be worn without firing nurses and reducing services otherwise," Dr McPhee said.

"At a time when drought, mine industry sackings and the economic downturn starts to bite, it is not wise to reduce access to quality general practice, the most efficient part of the health system.

"The Abbott-Dutton GP tax will see patients who already pay to see a GP slugged an extra $5 as the rebate that patients get back from Medicare falls in July 2015.

"From January, patients will also see the rebate they receive for a less than 20 minute consultation reduces significantly.

"The only saving grace is protection of pensioners and some children under-16 from the previous mandatory GP tax.

"The freezing of the Medicare rebate until 2018 will mean that the CPI and other increases in the costs of running general practice will be passed through to the patient as well."

Dr McPhee said a report from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare showed that in real terms the government's contribution to health costs has fallen by more than 2%.

"This is while personal contributions by Australians have already risen by over 6%," he said.

"There is no evidence of a rampant crisis in health care expenditure."

Comet pensioner Trevor Kemp said he saw the doctor "quite a lot" and he was "very worried about how the whole thing will end up".

"Although pensioners don't have to pay the $5, when you add it up for everyone else it's quite a lot of money," Mr Kemp said.

"It is causing a lot of people uncertainty."

Having lived in the region for 53 years, Mr Kemp said the logistics of collecting the co-payment will be a burden for local doctors.

"It puts the responsibility on the GP to collect the $5," he said.

"That's extra time for them... it's just another thing to load them up with."

The new health package is set to save the government $3.5 billion, which will be directed to the Medical Research Fund.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott and the Minister for Health Peter Dutton said the move would "strengthen Medicare and help make it sustainable, ensuring Australians will continue to have access to affordable, world-class health care".

"This new package ensures the government can make Medicare sustainable," they said.

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