The $7 GP co-payment has been axed in a major policy backdown by Prime Minister Tony Abbott.
The Government will instead implement a package of measures that they say will strengthen Medicare and help make it sustainable, ensuring Australians will continue to have access to affordable, world-class health care.
“The Government has listened to the views of the community,” Mr Abbott said.
“This new package ensures the Government can make Medicare sustainable, improve the quality of care for patients and continue its repair of the Budget.”
The Medicare rebate paid to doctors for some consultations will be reduced by $5 and the troublesome issue of ‘six minute medicine’ will be addressed by encouraging doctors to spend more time with patients.
A new optional co-payment will be introduced for GP services with additional protections for patients.
“The Government will not impose a co-payment on GP services provided to pensioners, Commonwealth concession card holders, all children under the age of 16, veterans funded through the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, attendances at residential aged care facilities and pathology and diagnostic imaging services,” Mr Abbott said.
“Incentives paid to doctors to encourage them to bulk bill concession card holders and children under the age of 16 will also remain.”
Medicare rebates for common GP consultations will be reduced by $5 for non-concessional patients aged 16 and over from July 1, 2015.
Doctors may choose to recoup the $5 rebate reduction through an optional co-payment or continue to bulk bill non-concessional patients over the age of 16.
“Doctors will be under no obligation to charge the co-payment and this decision will be entirely at their discretion,” Mr Abbott said.
“In a further move to streamline Medicare and improve quality outcomes, the Government will make changes to standard GP consultation items which currently provide the same Medicare rebate for a six minute consultation as for a 19 minute consultation.
“This change will ensure that Medicare expenditure more accurately reflects the time a GP spends with a patient.
“It encourages a shift away from ‘six minute medicine’ so that appropriate, comprehensive care is better rewarded over patient throughput.”
Additionally Medicare fees for all services provided by GPs, medical specialists, allied health practitioners, optometrists and others will remain at their current level until July 2018.