Bulk billing fee could bring more doctors to regional areas

A FEE introduced for bulk billed GP services could actually benefit regional and remote areas, despite fears the suggested co-payment scheme would make health care unaffordable, a local GP has suggested.

The scheme, supported by the Australian Centre for Health Research, could see patients paying $6 for each visit.

If rolled out, it is predicted that the volume of GP services would decline 3% a year and save the government $750 million over four years.

Although the plan may never be implemented, Gladstone's GP Super Clinic director Dr John Bird said as the volume of GP services decreased in the cities, doctors would move from urban to rural areas to find work.

"It (the co-payment) is a potentially good thing for rural people because if there are less people going to GPs in the cities, then the doctors will be drawn out to the rural areas," he said.

In terms of cutting the demand for GP services, Dr Bird believed the small fee wouldn't help too much because the majority of Medicare recipients could afford it, especially if the fee was waived for those on a pension or welfare.

"Medicare funds the privileged. It funds those who can afford the health care," he said.

However, Dr Bird, along with Australian Medical Association president Steve Hambleton, criticised the proposal for encouraging people to seek high cost services such as hospitalisation as opposed to lower-cost GP services.

From July 2011 to March 2013, Gladstone Hospital's emergency department saw 3526 non-urgent patients compared to 2137 emergency cases.

Health groups are worried that the misuse of emergency department services could worsen with the introduction of the fee as people seek out free healthcare alternatives.



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