Health consumers and doctors yesterday urged the Federal Government not to entertain a proposal to charge a $5 fee for bulk-billed GP services, warning any disincentive to go to the doctor could prove fatal.
The Commission of Audit set up by the Abbott Government to better target Commonwealth services listed a "co-payment" of $5 from bulk-billed patients as a way to increase efficiency, newspapers reported yesterday.
Pensioners and concession cardholders would be exempt and families would be allowed 12 bulk-billed visits a year before paying the fee in an attempt to cut unnecessary trips to the doctor.
Federal Health Minister Peter Dutton said he would not comment on "speculation around what the Commission of Audit may or may not recommend".
But Health Consumers Council executive director Frank Prokop said the move should not be considered and challenged the perception that many people were going to the doctor unnecessarily.
"(Clinics) are not being clogged up by hypochondriacs," he said.
"It's very hard to get to see a GP, that is very true, but charging an up-front fee is not the way to solving the problem. The number of GPs is low.
"You do not want to have a situation where a mother with a baby suffering a fever and a rash decides it's not worth going to see a GP and it has catastrophic implications."
Mr Prokop predicted the move would increase pressure on hospital emergency departments.
Australian Medical Association WA vice-president Michael Gannon said such a fee would hurt many people.
"If for any reason people think twice before seeing the doctor when they are sick or don't have chronic diseases looked at from time to time, that's a problem," he said.
Dr Gannon called on the Federal Government to fund more GP training places for medical students but reaffirmed the AMA's opposition to a third medical school in WA.
"In the past month, between the two medical schools in WA, we have graduated nearly 300 doctors," he said. "We have enough medical students but they need training places so they can become GPs, psychiatrists and surgeons."