Emergency departments could clog up over $6 GP fee

THE creation of a $6 fee to visit GPs around the country could clog up emergency departments as lower income Australians sought medical help, a Senate committee was told today.

And such a problem could be more pronounced in regional areas where medical services are fewer and further between than in major cities, witnesses told the inquiry.

Health and social services advocates were among several witnesses to speak to the Senate inquiry into the Abbott government's Commission of Audit.

The inquiry, which is investigating the scope of the audit and what stakeholders would like to see in its recommendations, heard of the possible effects of the $6 GP fee proposal.

That proposal was made by Terry Barnes, a consultant and Tony Abbott's advisor when the Prime Minister was Health Minister in the Howard government.

But Rebecca Vassarotti, policy advisor at the Consumer Health Forum of Australia, said such a fee would push low income patients, especially in regional areas, to emergency departments in public hospitals.

She told the committee it was "difficult to see how that would not be a consequence" of the government adding a fee to GP services, which are currently free under Medicare.

"(Or) they would probably delay care, but they would probably end up in emergency departments anyway, but they would be much sicker and need more care," she said.

"The other view is that co-payments are not actually a reduction in health care costs, it's just a shifting of those costs from governments and taxpayers to consumers directly."

The inquiry is due to report back to parliament in May.