RDAA: $6 doctor visits could shut down regional GPs

REGIONAL GPs could shut their doors if the Coalition Government backs a proposal to charge patients $6 a visit, the Rural Doctors Association of Australia warned today, saying doctors would walk away from their practices.

The suggestion to start charging is from a report written by Terry Barnes who used to be an adviser to Tony Abbott.

The report was written for the Australian Centre for Health Research as a way to limit unnecessary doctor visits and deliver more money to fund Medicare.

It was submitted to the Commission of Audit, which is currently considering ways for the Federal Government to cut spending.

The Australian Medical Association is critical of the proposal because it believes it could discourage sick people from seeking care.

Mr Barnes said $6 was a small enough sum that it would not deter those needing a doctor.

There would be some relaxing of the rules for those on concession cards and families with children under 16, these families would not pay the $6 "co-payment" after their 12th visit.

"This is a tough but fair measure if adopted," Mr Barnes said.

Mr Barnes specialises in helping protect companies from changes to government policy, and in this case the ACHR - a lobby group for the private health industry - is his client.

Mr Barnes did not investigate how or whether Medicare funds earmarked for the private health sector could be better used.

Tamworth GP and RDAA president Dr Ian Kamerman said there would be a flood of flow-on effects from the plan, starting with patients heading to emergency departments to avoid the fee.

If hospitals imposed their own $6 levy, Dr Kamerman said people may delay seeking help and this could allow a minor issue to develop into something worse.

"It's a ridiculous system," Dr Kamerman said.

"They're dropping the (Medicare) rebate by $6 and expecting doctors to collect that from patients.

"The thing about bulk billing - it's a very marginal proposition.

"It would end with doctors walking away in droves."

Federal Health Minister Peter Dutton said he would not discuss the proposals until the Commission of Audit returns its findings in the new year.