Aboriginal health services today called on the Federal Government to consult more widely on the impact of the GP co-payment before it is put to the Senate.
The National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO) Deputy Chairperson Matthew Cooke said the dealing apparently going on behind closed doors without input from the Aboriginal health sector was cause for concern.
“The fact is, the introduction of a GP co-payment is poor health policy for all Australians,” Mr Cooke said.
“Abolishing free universal health care will introduce a dangerous disincentive for people to seek the medical attention they need until their health conditions are advanced and need more invasive and costly attention.
“When applied to Aboriginal health its impact is likely to be magnified.
“We have made some gains in improving the health of Aboriginal people but we still have a long way to go to close the appalling health gap between Aboriginal and other Australians.
“We need our pregnant women to attend check ups, we need our children to be immunized, we need our young men to have access to mental health services.
“We simply can’t put any barriers in the way of Aboriginal people seeking health care or we risk the gains we are making in Aboriginal health. The GP co-payment is a significant barrier.”
Mr Cooke said speculation about exemptions from the GP co-payment for particular groups would only go part of the way to addressing the issues.
“Although we applaud the AMA’s efforts to work with the Federal Government to resolve the impact of a GP co-payment on vulnerable Australians, an exemption for Aboriginal Medical Services is not the silver bullet.
“The majority of our Services would have waived the co-payment for their patients, which would effectively have meant a cut in their funding, so in this regard it would be of benefit for our Services.”
“However, many Aboriginal people do not have access to Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services because of where they live.
“There are 150 Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services across Australia, providing primary health care to over half Australia’s Aboriginal population.
“But we don’t have national coverage so that would leave a lot of Aboriginal people using mainstream services still subject to the GP co-payment.”
Mr Cooke said he was also concerned about the additional pressures on Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services if the exemption only applied to these Services.
“Demand for our Services is growing at a rate of about six per cent a year. Aboriginal people are already travelling large distances to seek out our Services as they prefer to be treated by someone who understands their culture and community.
“The co-payment exemption is likely to increase demand even further and would be a challenge for our Services to manage within their existing budgets and resources.”