Health care co-payments announced in tonight's 2014-15 Federal Budget should be monitored to ensure they do not result in adverse health outcomes for socioeconomically disadvantaged Australians.
Catholic Health Australia, representing the nation's largest network of public and private not-for-profit hospitals, said ongoing monitoring of the new $7 health care co-payments for GP visits, pathology and diagnostic imaging will help avoid a drop in health care outcomes.
"Those with capacity to contribute to their health care costs should do so. Those less able to contribute must be guaranteed high-quality access to health care when needed, with the support of a robust, publicly funded social safety net," CHA chief executive officer Martin Laverty said.
"Special attention in designing the co-payment arrangements is needed, and a transparent monitoring process involving government, health consumers and non-government health providers could identify and fix any adverse consequences that might arise.
"Australia's health care system is already underpinned by individual contributions of many Australians towards the cost of their health care. Nearly half the population already contributes to health care costs through private health insurance.
"Before tonight's announcement, visiting a general practitioner who doesn't bulk bill triggered $28.72 in average out-of-pocket costs. Visiting a specialist who doesn't bulk bill costs a patient an average of $53.81 in out-of-pocket costs.
"General practice out-of-pocket costs that had been in place prior to tonight's Budget indicated that many Australians were contributing already. Tonight's announcement creates a new $7 cost, capped at $70 per year, for those who have not previously paid for GP, pathology or medical imaging," Mr Laverty said.
"Government, health consumers and non-government health providers must now focus on design implementation and monitoring of the changed co-payments to guarantee that socioeconomically disadvantaged Australians' health outcomes are not adversely impacted.
"Looking beyond how to fund the health care system, attention should also turn to how to reduce demand on health care funding. National health policy should place more emphasis on keeping people healthy and out of hospital.
"Action on the social determinants of health, effective prevention of chronic illness and optimal utilisation of primary health care delivery are keys to stemming health care demand in the years ahead.
"Objectives on social determinants, preventive health and optimal service utilisation should be part of the mandate of Primary Healthcare Organisations (PHOs), as recommended to be established by the Horvath review of Medicare Locals," Mr Laverty said.