BOMBALA general practitioner Emma Cunningham believes the introduction of the $7 Medicare copayment will hit rural patients the hardest.
Dr Cunningham – who is also vice president of the Rural Doctors Association – told the Bombala Times she is concerned patients will be deterred from visiting their local GP with the introduction of copayments.
“I think essentially there are two issues at hand,” Dr Cunningham said, “the first being that patients will avoid coming to the doctor and wait until their illness gets too much to bare.”
“They won’t come in for their preventative check ups, for instance, to check their diabetes or their blood pressure.
“They will wait until they have a heart attack to seek medical help.”
The copayment fee – which was unveiled in the federal budget handed down earlier this month – is scheduled to be introduced in July next year.
It will be waived for Commonwealth concession card holders and children under 16, after making 10 visits in a calendar year.
Dr Cunningham believes, however, that this will still deter the large proportion of Bombala residents who are concession holders.
As a regional GP, Dr Cunningham works in both the emergency department and the medical centre.
She believes the copayments will see added pressure to the emergency room.
“In regional hospitals we all work in both the medical centre and emergency department,” she said.
“For those who visit us at the medical centre will have a $7 fee charged on them and those that visit the emergency department will not have the charge.
“In Bombala these buildings are directly next door to each other, I believe that this will put a huge amount of pressure on (regional) hospital systems whereas in the big cities it might be neither here nor there.
“The emergency department will be overworked, nurses who are already busy will be pushed to their limits.