The Australian Medical Association has warned that doctors are "at breaking point" and may need to start charging up to $25 for a GP visit under the Coalition's health policies.
Just days out from the July 2 election, the AMA has claimed that doctors fear the consequences of the government's plan to keep the freeze on Medicare rebates.
"There are still four days to go before polling day, and I urge the Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and his team to back the nation's GPs and hospitals and dump the Medicare rebate freeze and lift public hospital funding," said AMA President Dr Michael Gannon.
"The freeze has meant that the Medicare rebate is falling ever further behind the cost of providing care. GPs are telling us that they are at breaking point and many say they will have to begin charging patients up to $25 a visit if their practices are to remain viable. Public hospitals, meanwhile, are being squeezed financially even as demand for their services climbs higher."
The Medicare rebate repays doctors who bulk bill their patients. As the costs of rendering services and treatment increases, so too is the rebate meant to increase; however, the Medicare rebate was frozen by Labor in 2013 as part of temporary budget repair measures. The Coalition kept the freeze on the rebate when it took office, and despite Labor committing to unfreezing the rebate and numerous health experts pleading for the rebate to be lifted, the government has refused to do so (for more, read this explainer piece).
The rebate freeze led to the infamous and hugely unpopular proposal for a $7 GP co-payment under the Abbott administration, which was abandoned due to public outrage, but the AMA says doctors may have no choice but to charge their patients an extra fee to make up the gap between the cost of rendering treatment and the repayment they receive through Medicare.
Labor has jumped on the news, issuing a release warning of a "$25 GP tax" under the Turnbull government.
"The AMA's Public Hospital Report Card shows that improvement in key measures of hospital performance has stalled and, in some instances, is beginning to slide. Public hospitals need more resources to continue to serve the needs of patients," Gannon said.
"Opinion polls consistently show that health is one of the top priorities for voters, and now is the chance for the Coalition to show its commitment to putting health first."
Gannon said he was encouraged by parts of the health policy outlined by the major parties -- specifically, the Coalition's plans to boost rural health, the Coalition's $192 million mental health pledge around suicide prevention, and Labor's $72 million for 12 regional suicide prevention projects -- but said more needed to be done.
"Especially, in the case of the Coalition, on Medicare and public hospital funding and, in the case of both major parties, a lack of commit the expand the rural GP infrastructure grants program," the AMA said in a statement.
Gannon said he hoped the last week of the campaign would see the major parties "ensure they are putting up policies that put health first".
"Whoever wins Saturday's vote, they must invest significantly in the health of the Australian people, and the AMA's policy prescription gives them an excellent place to start," he said.