Medicare payment will increase health costs

Issue 
Introducing a $6 co-payment for GP visits would add to government health costs.

Terry Barnes, a former adviser to Prime Minister Tony Abbott, is credited with coming up with the bright idea of introducing a $6 payment when people visit their GP.

After Barnes left the prime minister’s employ, he wrote a submission to the government’s Commission of Audit on behalf of the Australian Centre for Health Research, a right-wing think-tank set up by a private health insurer, proposing the extra charge for GP visits. He claimed that it would save $750 million over four years.

According to Fairfax media, the rationale behind the proposal was that GPs were “overused” by patients. The co-payment would correct this by achieving a 3% reduction in GP visits.

Yet when he appeared before a parliamentary committee last week Barnes was forced to concede that his figures were a little “rubbery”. The evidence for overuse was “anecdotal” and the 3% reduction in GP visits was based on “speculation”.

When the South Australian Health Department actually spent some time analysing the likely effects of the co-payment, it found that, far from saving $750 million, the co-payment would add $2 billion to state and federal government health costs.

Their modelling showed that the proposal would result in 4% of patients attending hospital emergency departments for medical assistance because they could not afford to see their GP.

This would double the number of patients presenting at emergency departments and triple waiting times, leading to an overall additional cost of $2 billion.

What the report confirms is what doctors and health groups have been saying since the co-payment idea was first raised — patients who cannot afford the fees will be diverted to an already overburdened hospital system.

While the mining industry gets a $4.5 billion a year subsidy, those who are least able to afford it are expected by the Abbott government to pay a $6 tax every time they are sick and have to visit a GP.

During the course of the last Labor government the then opposition and the right-wing media resorted to overblown Cold War rhetoric when accusing unions and the ALP of engaging in “class war”.

What is now clear is that a class war is being waged by this federal government against those least able to defend themselves — pensioners, the unemployed and the marginalised.