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The federal health department says it is “actively monitoring” whether doctors are charging patients for Covid vaccinations following reports some pensioners had been asked to pay $70 for a pre-jab consultation.
The Centre Alliance MP Rebekha Sharkie told parliament last week she had been told by elderly constituents that they had been charged out-of-pocket expenses for a pre-vaccination consultation by a small number of GPs.
The government vaccination program is supposed to be entirely free. But due to the program’s design, general practitioners have found themselves facing a sudden influx of new patients with unknown medical histories.
Sharkie last week described several cases in which pensioners had been charged between $70 and $90.
“It’s outrageous to charge them and according to the advice of the health department, it’s also against the rules of those clinics participating in the program,” she said. “We need to make sure the message gets out because we cannot risk our elderly forsaking their access to the vaccine because they think they cannot afford to visit a clinic.”
Sharkie’s office referred evidence of the practice to the health minister. The department told the Guardian it could not discuss individual case details. But it did say that it was actively monitoring for such activity and would take action against doctors if non-compliance was detected.
“The department is actively monitoring the claiming of the Covid-19 vaccine administration items and practices or practitioners who bill patients inappropriately may be subject to compliance action,” the department said in a statement.
The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners told the Guardian that no GP should be charging for pre-vaccination consults for individuals who are ready to have the jab.
“The new Medicare Benefits Schedule Covid-19 vaccine suitability assessment items allow GPs and other qualified health professionals to assess if a patient is suitable to receive a Covid-19 vaccine,” the college’s president, Dr Karen Price, told the Guardian.
“The suitability assessment, the cost of the vaccine and the vaccine delivery in general practice are fully covered for patients through Medicare.
“The vaccine suitability assessment can include a short patient history, and limited examination and management, where it is clinically relevant and then the vaccine is either administered or not. Patients do not need to book a separate GP appointment prior to receiving the vaccine.”
The health department said the overwhelming majority of clinics were doing the right thing. But it warned others it would not hesitate to take action if needed.
“The department takes allegations of Medicare non-compliance by health care providers very seriously and all tip-offs will be reviewed in accordance with the department’s compliance assessment procedures,” it said.
“The department may pursue a range of responses including education, review, audit and investigation into breaches of Australian laws. Privacy and secrecy provisions set out in legislation do not allow us to provide details regarding the progress of our actions.”
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Australia’s health department ‘actively monitoring’ if doctors are charging for Covid jabs | Health