THE federal government’s proposed $7 GP co-payment fee has injected confusion into the south-west community, with many clinics noticing a drop-off in patient numbers.
Some clinics yesterday told The Standard there had been an approximate 10 per cent decline in attendances even though the May budget announcement is yet to be ratified by the Senate.
Medical experts are concerned some people could be placing their health in jeopardy.
“Many district patients think the payment is already in place,” Medicare Local Great South West has advised in a circular to all GP clinics across the region.
“The concern is that patients will compromise their health by avoiding GP visits, particularly for appointments requiring prescriptions.”
Warrnambool Medical Clinic practice manager Alistair Ross said unfilled appointments in the past few weeks were about 10 per cent higher than the same time last year.
“It’s hard to quantify whether it’s directly due to concern over the co-payment fee or the long-mild autumn which has delayed the flu season,” Mr Ross said.
“Our concern is for people who need prescriptions or vaccinations and have decided not to visit their GP. People also need flu injections.”
Another clinic said some clients on tight budgets had indicated they would be unable to afford the proposed $7 fee.
South West Healthcare’s (SWH) new medical centre in Warrnambool has, unusually, had spare appointments during the past couple of weeks.
“However, we wouldn’t describe it as significant and we couldn’t say for sure that it’s because of the alleged confusion around the proposed GP co-payment initiative,” SWH community partnerships manager Suzan Morey said.
“Our Warrnambool emergency department, meantime, has seen no reduction or increase in patient numbers.”
The Senate is yet to debate the fee which if approved would not be introduced until July next year.