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18 Feb 2015

Patients with the capacity to pay should be given a “value signal” when they see their GP, Health Minister Sussan Ley said today.

In a sign that the Government at this stage remains committed to introducing a co-payment, Ms Ley said the fact that 76 per cent of episodes of care were being bulk billed for patients who did not have a concession card, had to change.

“Too many consultations cost nothing for people who can afford to pay something,” the Health Minister said.

In a change of terminology, Ms Ley has dropped the term “price signal” and replaced it with “value signal”, but the Government’s intention is still to go ahead with a $5 co-payment from 1 July this year.

The Minister, who has met with AMA President Associate Professor Brian Owler and other members of the medical profession as part of a much more consultative approach by the Government, said she had hit the “pause button” on health policy changes while talks proceed.

“That is out very, very strong commitment, to get this absolutely right,” the Minister said.

Ms Ley said she had meetings with doctors booked in for the “next few weeks”, but admitted the process of consultation “is not going to go on indefinitely”.

With the May Budget looming and the Government scrambling to salvage what cuts and savings it can, Ms Ley said leaving Medicare untouched was “not an option”.

Last December, the Government was forced to ditch its original proposal for an across-the-board $7 patient co-payment in the face of community hostility and opposition in the Senate, and a month later it had to dump an alternative proposal for a $20 rebate cut for sub-10 minute GP consultations because of widespread outrage among doctors and patients.

But it still plans to cut the Medicare rebate by $5 on 1 July, and is pushing ahead with an extension of the Medicare rebate indexation freeze through to mid-2018 – measures which A/Professor Owler has warned will effectively “dismantle Medicare”.

Adrian Rollins

Published: 18 Feb 2015