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Health care hit

Friday, 18th October, 2013

By By Darrin Manuel

A recommended increase in GP fees could be enough to stop people from seeing their doctor, according to the State’s pensioners association.

The Australian Medical Association (AMA) has advised doctors to increase standard GP consultation fees by $2 to $73 in order to keep up with ever-increasing practice costs.

The increase will not be matched by the Medicare Benefits Schedule as the former federal government froze the Medicare rebate for a standard GP visit at $36.60 until July 2014.

This will mean that the Medicare rebate will not cover even half the fee of most GPs, and patients who cannot find a bulk-billing doctor will have to pay the extra cost.

The move has drawn strong criticism from a number of seniors groups across the country, including the Combined Pensioners and Superannuants Association of NSW (CPSA).

“CPSA is concerned about the AMA recommendation to jack up visit fees and urges local GPs to reject this, particularly in light of the fact that

Medicare Benefits Schedule has a freeze on it,” said CPSA Senior Policy Advisor, Amelia Christie.

“This increase will have a detrimental impact on pensioners and others on low incomes, particularly those who are unable to access a bulk billing doctor.

“CPSA fears that people will put off doctor visits due to the cost or alternatively will have to forego essentials in order to pay doctor fees.

“This fee increase will widen the rebate gap and that’s not good news for patients.”

Thankfully, it seems Broken Hill practices are doing their best to keep health care affordable for the city’s ageing population, with the two largest clinics opting not to impose an immediate price rise.

Dr Ramu Nachiappan said his surgery offered extensive bulk billing options to patients of all ages, with only two doctors occasionally billing the standard rate of $71 for some consultations.

He said there were no immediate plans to institute the price rise, however it would have to be discussed with the practice’s management committee.

“Even if we did, it would affect a very small number of our patients ... Further, our patients are all given the option of seeing a bulk billing doctor at the time they make their appointments,” said Dr Nachiappan.

“General practices such as mine have elected to take a pay cut by continuing to bulk bill most of our health services.”

Dr Nachiappan empathised with the pensioners who would be left out of pocket by the price rise, but said the Medicare rebate freeze was a consequence of errant spending by the former government on projects such as Superclinics.

“This is perfectly understandable from the pensioners’ viewpoint ... the government has been keen to spend money on fancy projects rather than look after the people who need it the most.”

The Outback Family Health Clinic, which offers bulk billing for children and pensioners, will also forego the fee hike and stick with its price of $66 per standard consultation.

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