Getting ready for GP co-payments

If, as expected, the government introduces a $7 co-payment for bulk-billed patients in tomorrow's budget, how do you think this will affect general practice workflow and IT configuration?

There has been no detail provided by the government describing how the co-payment will be administered, with the Sydney Morning Herald's Peter Hartcher perhaps the only reporter who has received answers to these sorts of questions.

“Under Peter Dutton’s plan, the Medicare rebate paid to the GP would fall by some $5 to offset the new copayment,” Hartcher wrote on Saturday. “So that would be a saving to the federal budget of some $600-700 million a year. But the GP would get to keep the other $2.”

What that seems to suggest is that the $7 will not be sent to Medicare, but retained by the practice. Hartcher says GPs will be able to waive the $7 charge in cases of hardship, however this scenario would presumably leave the practice $5 worse off when compared with current bulk billing arrangements.

He also suggests that the new fee will apply from the first of July next year, allowing time for the change to be bedded down.

The introduction of a co-payment would require changes to the Medicare claiming and billing functions in practice software, but if there is an increase in small transactions through EFTPOS, practices will likely need to review their arrangements with their bank as well.

The larger concern would be about reception staff workflow. It seems likely that the collection of the co-payment, either as cash or by EFTPOS, will take more time for reception staff than current bulk billing arrangements. Will this ultimately have an effect on the bottom line for practices?

And, as Hartcher points out, with the Treasury estimating that the total number of GP visits would fall by about only one per cent, is it really worth it?

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