Health groups say the government remains set on bringing in a Medicare co-payment, despite public and backbench MP concern.
Federal Health Minister Sussan Ley met key health consumer and community groups in Canberra on Tuesday to discuss a way forward on changes to Medicare.
Facing a public and internal party backlash, Prime Minister Tony Abbott declared the co-payment – originally proposed in last year’s budget – “off the table” pending Ms Ley’s consultation program.
But he says the system needs more price signals to keep it afloat over the long term.
However, those attending Tuesday’s meeting came out with the impression the co-payment remains on the government’s agenda.
Australian Council of Social Service chief Cassandra Goldie said the government could not explain why the co-payment was needed.
On occasions, the government talked about budget savings and at other times it was about GP over-servicing or changing the behaviour of doctors.
‘On any of those outcomes, this is the wrong policy to achieve it,’ Dr Goldie said.
The better option was to look at broader tax reform.
‘We can’t talk about budget sustainability and only focus on fee-for-service grabs,’ she said.
Consumers Health Forum chairman Tony Lawson said the co-payment was alive and well.
‘Unfortunately, it would appear the minister continues to propose that Medicare needs a price signal,’ he said.
‘But she and the government are failing to recognise that the introduction of a mandatory co-payment would represent a serious blow to what has made Medicare so successful over the past 30 years.’
The payment would particularly hit chronically ill patients who do not qualify for concessions, and cause people to delay treatment, leading to more expensive treatment borne by the taxpayer.
Ms Ley said she appreciated the honesty and enthusiasm of those at the meeting.
‘This government is also committed to maintaining high-quality care and treatment and protecting bulk billing for concession card holders and the vulnerable,’ she said in a statement.
‘However, with over 70 per cent of Medicare-eligible medical services provided to non-concessional patients now being bulk billed, doing nothing is not an option.’
Other groups at the meeting included the Public Health Association, National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations, Australian Health Care Reform Alliance and National Rural Health Alliance.