Scrap medicare co-payment, Primary
One of Australia's largest medical centre operators is urging the health minister to dump the controversial medicare co-payment and resist the temptation to replace it with another fee for GP visits.
The plea from Primary Health Care, which has 800 doctors working across its 78 centres, comes amid growing confusion about whether the government will push ahead with the $5 co-payment on July 1.
Health Minister Sussan Ley appeared on Wednesday to back away from plans to put money raised from the planned co-payment into a medical research fund.
She described the co-payment, which has been fiercely opposed by doctors, as a "plan in progress", saying she was in talks with medical professionals about the cost of providing healthcare.
The head of Primary Health Care's medical centre network, Henry Bateman, said his company hoped to convince the minister to dump the co-payment.
He said GPs provided good value for Australia's health care services and that introducing patient fees would undermine the system.
"GPs are delivering some of the best value for money in the healthcare system," Mr Bateman told AAP.
"Real growth in Medicare GP expenditure is less than the national population growth in the last decade, and pricing growth has been well below inflation. So we are great value for the taxpayer.
"To undermine that, we think, at this point in time is not the right thing to do."
Earlier, Mr Bateman told analysts that confusion about whether the government was introducing its initial plan for a $7 co-payment in January caused patient numbers to flatline.
Growth in patient numbers had since recovered, he said, once people realised the government backed away from the $7 fee.
Mr Bateman said he feared that if the $5 co-payment was introduced, smaller GP practices would be forced to pass it on to patients.
Primary lifted revenues and earnings at its medical centres during the first half of its financial year, aided by a rise in patient volumes.
The result helped increase Primary's interim net profit by 6.2 per cent to $53.4 million.
Total group revenue rose 6.3 per cent to $797.9 million and the interim dividend was held steady at nine cents a share.
Primary expects its underlying earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation to rise to between $410-$425 million for the year, with earnings per share to rise between five and 12 per cent.
Meanwhile, it has hired former Leighton and Qantas executive Peter Gregg as its new boss.
He replaces Primary's founder Dr Edmund Bateman, who officially stepped down from his post in January while on extended sick leave for an undisclosed condition.
MEDICAL CENTRES DRIVE PRIMARY'S PROFITS HIGHER
- Net profit of $53.4m, up 6.2pct from $50.3m
- Revenue of $797.6m, up 6.3pct from $750.8m
- Interim dividend steady at nine cents a share