No need to panic about bulk-billing proposal: doctor

BULK-BILLING patients need not fear financial pain from proposed changes to the system and the overhaul could free up appointments for genuine patients, according to one Warwick doctor.

There are concerns a Federal Government proposal to introduce a $5 up-front fee to visit a bulk-billing doctor could put further pressure on the public system or discourage people from attending a doctor altogether.

Dr Ross Hetherington, of the Condamine Medical Centre, urged people not to panic about the plan and said it could be of benefit to other patients.

According to the long-time physician, unnecessary consultations tend to clog up bulk-bill clinics and make it harder for those in real need to see a doctor.

"No government would want to move people from private practices to hospitals," he said.

"Although if it got rid of unnecessary consultations it would be good for GPs.

"Labor tried a similar system 20-odd years ago, charging $2.50 or $3.50 I recall.

"It was so messy and so hard."

Dr Hetherington said he doubted the government would make changes to the current system and urged people to wait and see what happened.

There's no need to stress and panic," Dr Hetherington said.

"I can't see how it would make a difference to the current system."

Under the proposed changes pensioners and concession card holders would be exempt from the fee, and families could be granted up to 12 bulk-billed visits each year.

Dr Hetherington, who is also on the Darling Downs Hospital and Health Service board, said the Condamine Medical Centre bulk-billed about 70% of its patients.

"Every doctor in our practice is different, but most bulk-bill older pensioners, veterans and under-16s."

There are 16 doctors at Condamine Medical Centre, and the practice is regularly booked out days in advance.

A spokeswoman for Health Minister Lawrence Springborg said the State Government wanted to see more details on the bulk-bill proposal.

"At this stage we wouldn't support the $5 charge for GP access without seeing the details," she said.

"However it is a far cry from the former Bligh government proposal of co-payments for surgery, which would have been far more damaging for Queenslanders."

A number of doctors across the region bulk-bill patients, especially in smaller practices such as the Allora and Clifton medical centres.



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