There’s hysteria over suggestions that the government might introduce a Medicare co-payment, and while the introduction is a worthy idea, for the life of me I don’t understand why the government might want to introduce it as a new policy because it is effectively the status quo for most Australians.
Medicare works on the basis of the government setting a prescribed fee and paying the doctor 85% of that fee. So Medicare envisages a 15% co-payment in the first place.
The doctor is not obliged to charge the prescribed fee. They can charge more, or they can charge less. They can bulk-bill, which consists of not taking any money from the patient and taking the government’s 85% discount of their fee from the government in full and final settlement.
That means that most doctors charge a fee that is higher than the Medicare payment. Generally much higher than the $6 the government is rumoured to be thinking about, and even higher than the $15 that the Commission of Audit has suggested.
There are some bulk billing clinics, but they are the minority, although regular doctors generally bulk bill for children, pensioners, and friends. Unless they are just starting out when the rules of economics suggest they should prudently charge less than their elders.
The scheduled fee hasn’t kept pace with growth in wages, meaning fewer and fewer doctors can afford to charge it and keep up their standard of living.
The longer that goes on, the more substantial the “co-payments” that will be levied by doctors.
Both sides of government have indulged in this subterfuge, so why would Abbott break cover on the issue for a very marginal financial gain? It’s almost as though someone doesn’t understand how the system works now.