Patients baulk at GP fee
Patients baulk at GP fee

WA doctors are fielding concerns from hundreds of cash-strapped patients who say they will have to miss appointments if they are charged a co-payment.

Australian Medical Association WA president Richard Choong said many GPs were reporting a steady stream of patients coming into their surgeries amid "mass confusion" about how the fee would apply to them.

In his own Port Kennedy practice, patients were warning they would not be able to afford a $7 co-payment and would have to ration their visits to the doctor.

"There is a lot of confusion and misinformation, and my staff are fielding so many questions from patients," he said.

"It's hard to say yet whether GPs generally are seeing a drop-off in numbers, because with the flu season picking up it's a hard time to judge activity.

"But we've had patients saying, 'Look, I'm just not going to be coming in if you charge me $7', so they're already making that decision."

Dr Choong said the Federal Government had not explained the co-payment properly, and he reiterated the need to have exclusions such as vaccinations.

Nationally, the AMA says the planned co-payment is already keeping patients away, with some practices in western Sydney reporting sharp falls in attendance.

Patients were unclear about the timing of the co-payment, due to be introduced in July next year, and who would be charged.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Mick Gooda raised concerns childhood vaccinations would now incur the $7 co-payment, citing new figures from the COAG Reform Council that showed immunisation rates in indigenous communities had improved in the five years to 2012.

"Given that children require six GP visits in their first 18 months for their immunisation program, this $7 co-payment for each visit will deter parents and may hinder the progress we're making in reducing childhood mortality rates," he said.

The West Australian

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