Budget 2014: Medicare co-payment will hit the poor

Dubious: Milton GP Brett Thomson views budget medical measures sceptically.Picture: STUART CARLESS
Dubious: Milton GP Brett Thomson views budget medical measures sceptically.Picture: STUART CARLESS

The new Medicare co-payment charge could force bulk-billing doctors to refuse treatment to those who can't afford it - or pay the fee out of their own pocket.

Milton GP Brett Thomson bulk bills the majority of his patients. The changes announced in Tuesday's budget mean that his patients pay $7 up front or, if Dr Thomson chooses to waive it, then he receives $5 less in government rebates.

"In areas like where my practice is and in Wollongong, there's a lot of socio-economic pressures on people," Dr Thomson said.

"So practices in those areas have either got to bulk bill and take $7 off people, or if they do waive it, take $5 less to produce the same service.

"I know what will happen, we'll end up absorbing a significant bit of that cost."

Dr Thomson felt that most people wouldn't have a problem coming up with $7 but some certainly would - and they would be less likely to seek medical attention.

"I do think it will have some effect on some people and unfortunately it will be the people who are most vulnerable, I suspect," he said.

"The people who are the poorest, people who are older and socially disadvantaged.

"We say to people here, 'oh you need to drive to Wollongong from Milton for a specialist appointment' and they say 'I can't afford the petrol. I can't go this week because I don't have petrol'.

"We don't realise there are people living on the edge. They've said people who are under 30 and unemployed aren't going to get the dole for six months. If they're not eligible for the dole, how are they supposed to make a co-payment?"

Dr Thomson also took issue with the co-payment being designed to limit people making too many visits to the doctor.

"I don't necessarily accept that premise, that limiting people coming to the doctor's is a good thing," he said.

"I don't see people for nothing, it just doesn't happen. Sure, people come in with something like a toothache but to them it's still an emergency.

"Sometimes people bring children in and you look at them and the only treatment is reassurance. That's OK, I'd much rather that than a kid come in a day later who had meningococcal and we were 12 hours late."


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