GP co-payment and a healthier economy are polar opposites

"While a $7 fee sounds easy, the policy flies in the face of good evidence that encourages a different approach."

“While a $7 fee sounds easy, the policy flies in the face of good evidence that encourages a different approach.”

Occasionally during a particularly divisive and protracted debate, someone just hits the nail on the head, an enabler who helps us to see the woods for the trees in what previously seemed intractable foggy territory. In relation to the shortfalls of the government’s proposed GP co-payment, this enabler has come in the form of AMA President Brian Owler.

At the National Press Club last month Professor Owler outlined the AMA’s concerns about the co-payment, saying it threatens “the universality and affordability for healthcare for the neediest and sickest in the community”. While touring indigenous health clinics in Alice Springs this week he foretold of the “devastating effect on people attending the clinics” the co-payment would have.

As the government prepares to take its GP co-payment policy to the Senate for approval, it is vital our nation’s lawmakers give genuine consideration to the gravitas of Professor Owler’s outlook. This is not a proposal involving a simple $7 impost on Australians; it’s a scheme that could shake the very foundations of our egalitarian society, which is celebrated internationally as a beacon of light.

Across St Vincent’s Health Australia, the basic reality as a hospital provider is that we expect this policy to mean more people presenting to our emergency departments rather than visiting their GP. For those who avoid seeking treatment altogether, we will literally be the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff picking up the pieces in a high-cost atmosphere that totally negates the $7 saving. Ominously, the Grattan Institute’s Stephen Duckett has calculated that every hospital visit in lieu of a GP visit will cost on average $291.