Government calls for national "conversation" on Medicare

A FEE to visit the GP could soon be one of the possible measures under consideration by the Abbott Government, after Health Minister Peter Dutton called for a national conversation on Medicare.

Mr Dutton's Wednesday night speech intimated he wanted to see the Medicare system modernised, including ensuring those who can pay for services, do.

He said the total cost of health care had risen by 122% in the decade to 2011-12, totalling $140 billion, and the system was "riddled with inefficiency and waste".

"The inescapable reality is that we must work with the fiscal environment we have inherited," he said.

"We must be constrained in the way we approach new policies. We must be innovative. We must focus on consumer needs in a sustainable and sensible way.

"And, fundamentally, we must not add cost."

Mr Dutton also backed the idea of the private insurance and health sector playing a larger role in the provision of public health services, for those who could pay.

While he did not outline specific initiatives, his speech effectively endorsed a proposal for a small fee for GP visits, which are currently covered by Medicare.

But that proposal has sparked the ire of public health advocates, and the Australian medical Association on Thursday hit out at such "blunt instruments".

AMA president Dr Steve Hambleton told Sky News using such a fee could create "perverse outcomes", urging the government to instead consider lowering primary health care costs.

"I would say that focusing on primary health care and putting barriers there is not the right approach," he said.

"Helping GPs to look after chronic disease, that's the major burden in our community, is."


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