The peak Aboriginal health organisation today warned that the revised GP co-payment policy would result in an effective cut to Aboriginal health services and called on the Abbott Government to reconsider their position.
National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO) Chairperson Matthew Cooke said the majority of Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services, whose overriding purpose was to encourage Aboriginal people through their doors, would choose to absorb the discretionary $5 co-payment.
“Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services are making the biggest gains against the closing the gap targets – helping Aboriginal people to live longer and healthier,” Mr Cooke said.
“Many Aboriginal people do not fit in the exemption categories but still have low disposable incomes and can ill-afford to pay extra for their often complex medical needs and repeat appointments.
“Our services won’t jeopardise the incredible gains made by adding a reason for their patients to put off their visit or not come in at all.
“The co-payment would be defunding Aboriginal health services when what we need is greater investment at this less costly end of the system. We are now likely to see more people present at emergency departments of public hospitals to avoid the co-payment.
“It is extremely disappointing to see that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, some of the sickest in the nation, have not been taken into consideration with this revised policy,” Mr Cooke said.
Mr Cooke said if the co-payment was designed to act as a price point and deter overuse of the system, then Aboriginal people should not be the target.
“Against all health indicators Aboriginal people fare much, much worse than other Australians.
“Yet the Expenditure on Health 2010-2011 report showed per person expenditure for MBS services was lower for Indigenous Australians ($493) than for non-Indigenous Australians ($737).
“Aboriginal people are not overusing services, they are underusing them. Adding a financial barrier like a co-payment will not help reverse this trend.
“To close the gap there needs to be every incentive in place to get Aboriginal people to have check ups, to see their doctor, to attend their follow up appointments and attend to their health needs.
“The co-payment undermines universal health care and targets the wrong end of the system. It is simply poor health policy.
”The government needs to go back to the drawing board again and come up with a better option that improves efforts to close the gap – not hinders them.”
Mr Cooke said Aboriginal people were suffering from the cumulative impacts of many Abbott government decisions.
“Policies such as the co-payment, closure of remote communities and punitive welfare reforms are all triggers for poor physical and mental health for Aboriginal people.
“As Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Mr Abbott needs to stop and listen to Aboriginal people and work with them to come up with better solutions.”