Doctors blast emergency fee proposal

The Australian Medical Association has blasted a proposal, reportedly being considered by the Abbott government, to charge patients who use hospital emergency departments for the treatment of minor complaints.

On Wednesday The Daily Telegraph reported a senior government source saying such a charge would have to accompany the potential introduction of a $6 Medicare  fee for GP visits. The government has refused to rule in or out either policy.

Accusing the government of fuelling “crazy policy speculation”, AMA president Steve Hambleton said the emergency wards proposal is “trying to solve a problem that does not exist”.

“The problem in emergency departments is lack of capacity in the hospital to move sick people out of the emergency department into inpatient beds” he said.

“All the speculation ahead of the budget is about GP co-payments, freezing Medicare rebates, means testing, and now a charge for patients who go to emergency departments with minor ailments.

“These proposals are targeted at the wrong end of the health system. They would produce disincentives for people to see their doctor, and they would create loads of new red tape for medical practices.”

Dr Hambleton called on the government to immediately rule out introducing a Medicare fee for GP visits.

Health Minister Peter Dutton said in a statement: “The Commonwealth budget will be handed down on 13 May and we will not engage in unhelpful speculation on the budget - we simply do not play the rule in, rule out game that the Labor party is so fond of.”

Mr Dutton said the government would keep all its election commitments.

Acting Labor leader Penny Wong said the proposal would amount to a “hospital tax” and a “clear broken promise”.