How $7 fee will hurt in the long run

A Wollongong health services researcher has delivered a scathing critique of the government's proposed $7 GP fee, likening the charge to a "hernia" that will ultimately cost the health system more than it will recoup.

Professor Simon Eckermann warns the fee will deter low-income and reluctant patients from visiting the GP, potentially delaying the diagnosis of health problems and bringing on "high downstream costs of more complex treatment".

In an editorial published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, Prof Eckermann suggests GPs will over-service their remaining patients in order to fill their lists and meet income targets. This servicing would also have unintended consequences.

"Discretionary over-servicing such as additional tests or referrals in populations who don't need them but can afford them is generally not cost-effective," he wrote.

"This could [lead to] high rates of false positives in tests for conditions with low prior risks and over-medication of populations leading to unnecessary treatment, with higher costs and detrimental health impacts."

Prof Eckermann, of UOW's Australian Health Services Research Institute, told the Mercury he wrote the appraisal to draw attention to the declines in efficiency that would likely result if the fee was introduced.

"[People from] the lowest socio-economic groups are actually the most cost-effective groups to be treated in GP settings," Prof Eckermann said.

"The current billing rate for a GP service is $36.30, but the typical admission within a hospital costs more like $5000.

"Even if only 1 per cent of patients end up presenting in hospitals rather than the GP, then you'll cost the health system more."

Prof Eckermann pointed to poor outcomes in the US health system - which ranks last among 11 first world countries for its efficiency, equity and access - as proof the fee was ill-advised.

"The US is really where we can see what would happen if we adopted this policy," he said.

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