Fee based on false belief: doctors

SCRAPPING bulk-billing at doctors' surgeries would hurt struggling Tasmanian families and do nothing to ease congestion at GP clinics, the organisation representing Tasmanian doctors has said.

Australian Medical Association Tasmania president John Davis said a proposal to introduce a mandatory co-payment of $5 for all doctor visits that might otherwise have been bulk-billed, which the federal government is reported to be considering, was based on the false belief that people visited their doctor without good reason.

According to News Limited papers, which reported yesterday that the   government was considering the proposal as part of its National Commission of Audit, the floated $5 fee would send a ``price signal'' to patients not to go to the doctor unnecessarily.

``I don't think anyone goes to the doctor unnecessarily,'' Dr Davis said.

``In the vast majority of instances the patient believes that they have a genuine need to go to the doctor.''

Dr Davis said removing a doctor's discretion to bulk-bill would hit those who didn't qualify for a pension or health care card, which might be exempt, but whose incomes were still tight.

Federal Health Minister Peter Dutton yesterday refused to rule out introducing a mandatory fee, but said the government was committed to making health care ``sustainable and accessible''.

``We won't be commenting on speculation around what the Commission of Audit may or may not recommend,'' Mr Dutton said.

The commission will report to the government in January.

Tasmanian Health Minister Michelle O'Byrne said scrapping bulk-billing could put increased pressure on emergency departments if people did  not receive appropriate care, at the appropriate time, from their GP.

``No reasonable government would contemplate such an act,'' Ms O'Byrne said.

Tasmanian Council of Social Service chief executive Tony Reidy said he would wait to see an official proposal, but  any move to put an additional cost on essential services would disproportionately affect those with lower incomes and would not be supported.

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