Victorian doctors have slammed the new $7 co-payment for GP visits and medical tests and say they will fight hard to prevent Victorian hospitals from introducing similar fees for emergency department care.
On Tuesday night, the Commonwealth opened the door for the state and territory governments to start charging people for emergency department services after announcing that as of July next year, Australians will be charged a $7 co-payment for GP visits, including imaging such as X-rays and pathology such as blood tests.
A spokesman for the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine, Dr Simon Judkins, said the new fees could prompt more patients to go to emergency departments instead of their GPs because hospital treatment is free.
He said the potential for this to occur, combined with a Commonwealth Government announcement that it will cut hospital funding to the states, could prompt the Victorian Government to introduce fees for emergency department care to raise more funding for the health system.
But Dr Judkins said doctors would strongly oppose such a move because it could deter people from seeking help with devastating consequences.
He said doctors were particularly worried about poor people and those with mental illnesses who could walk out of hospitals when they realise they might have to pay.
‘‘We already have patients in emergency departments whose conditions deteriorate because they have to wait for a long period of time so if you throw in an additional disincentive of having to pay money before you see the doctor… then there’s potential for patients who are acutely unwell to walk out and deteriorate,’’ he said.
Dr Judkins said any new fee for emergency care would hit the poorest people the hardest, undermining the principle of universal care.
”People who work in public hospitals pride themselves on delivering equitable care to whoever turns up at our front door. We would hate to go down the path of the American system where people are charged for emergency care,” he said.
Dr Judkins said designing an emergency department fee would be difficult, too, because many patients who could be considered ‘‘GP type’’ patients present with problems that can escalate into serious illnesses such as meningitis or stroke.
‘‘The logistics of determining what is a GP-type visit or what is an emergency visit can only be done retrospectively and the bureaucracy and infrastructure that you would have to put into place to monitor that would far outweigh the cost or revenue made from such a co-payment,’’ he said.
‘‘We think any disincentive for anybody to come to an emergency department when they think they have a genuine health emergency needs to be strongly opposed.’’
Victorian Health Minister David Davis was unavailable for comment on Tuesday night, but Victorian Treasurer Michael O’Brien told 3AW radio that the Napthine government would closely monitor the $7 fee increase to see a doctor.
“We don’t want to see people deciding they are not going to see their GP because of this co-payment and they wind up clogging up our emergency departments in our hospitals with things which are really more appropriately seen by a GP,’’ Mr O’Brien said.
He said the Victorian Government was also concerned about the longer term reduction in federal funding for state hospitals.
“The state budget has put extra money into our hospitals, and extra money into our schools, and we will be very concerned if the federal government is, sort of, stepping back over the next decade,’’ he said.
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