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NZMA supports GPs’ right to charge

All Health Reporters/Chief Executives/Press Officers

FROM: Dr Tricia Briscoe, Chairman NZMA
DATE: Thursday, 15 January 2004
SUBJECT: NZMA supports GPs’ right to charge

The New Zealand Medical Association supports GPs who charge a co-payment for treating children aged under six.

“Somebody has to pay for these services, and it is either the Government or patients,” said NZMA Chairman Dr Tricia Briscoe. "The subsidy level for GP visits for under-sixes (currently $35) has not kept pace with increasing costs, so it is unsurprising that many GPs now charge a co-payment.

"Although the under-sixes subsidy was promoted as providing 'free' GP visits, it has never been free for the patient in the sense that treatment at a public hospital is free," Dr Briscoe explained. “GPs have been very supportive of the aims of the under-sixes subsidy, but for some years now many of them have needed to charge a co-payment as well.”

GPs have always had the right to set a fee and charge a co-payment, if necessary, for children under six. When the subsidy was initially set by the Government in 1997 (at $32.50), it was at a level that the vast majority of GPs were prepared to accept without charging a co-payment. Since then the subsidy has increased by $2.50, but general practice costs have risen by even more.

“If the Government wants GP visits for children under six to be truly free, it must increase the subsidy to a realistic level,” Dr Briscoe said. “Otherwise it must ensure that parents do not have unreasonable expectations of access to ‘free’ care which is not free.”

It is important to remember that the vast majority of general practices are private businesses. The doctors who own those businesses must cover their costs (including staff wages, rents and equipment) before paying their own salary. In the main, GPs' incomes have fallen in real terms over recent years.


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