Rural doctors say health sector recommendations from the Commission of Audit would have a disproportionate impact on the health of Australians living in rural and remote areas.
Dr John Hall, vice president of the Rural Doctors Association of Australia, said that the health recommendations would not only be costly in the long term, but could also be deadly for many rural Australians.
“The proposed co-payments would have a significant impact in rural communities and would result in an entire segment of rural patients being less likely to seek timely medical care,” Dr Hall said.
“People in rural areas often have a greater burden of chronic disease and can already expect poorer health outcomes than their city counterparts.
“Many have difficulty in accessing health care services and a larger proportion of the community, especially in remote areas, are also economically disadvantaged,” Dr Hall said.
“Evidence shows that improved health outcomes are closely related to access to general practice care.
“We also know that it costs more to treat someone in an Emergency Department than it does in the general practice setting.
“Yet here we have a recommendation to impose a minimum $15 gap that will lead to fewer patients seeing their GP, more presentations to emergency departments and sicker patients requiring hospital admission and treatments at a higher cost.”
Dr Hall also said that the blanket $15 gap unfairly targets general practice as it is not proposed to be levied on specialist consultations.
“Targeting general practice care sends the wrong message to patients,” Dr Hall said. “GPs will be pressured to refer more patients to specialists for ongoing care which is again much more costly to the health sector.
“These recommendations have been developed without considering the implications of the cascading impact of costs associated with decreasing access to primary health care.
“RDAA urges Government not to make any hasty policy decisions but to carefully consult with stakeholders and fully consider the implications of any major changes to the health care system,” Dr Hall said.
“Rural patients need more support, not less, to access a GP and they should not be left sitting in the dust after falling victim to poorly considered health reform.”