Health Minister Greg Hunt has confirmed all COVID-19 vaccine appointments must be free as the country passes the 400,000 vaccination mark.
Centre Alliance MP Rebekha Sharkie told Parliament several pensioners in her South Australian electorate had been charged $70 in out-of-pocket fees from doctors requiring patients to have a “pre-vaccination” appointment.
Greg Hunt said no vaccine-related consultation should come at a cost to patients.Credit:Rhett Wyman
“Pensioners can’t afford to pay these fees just to get the vaccine. Some risk not being vaccinated at all due to the cost. What can be done to address this issue?” she asked Mr Hunt during question time on Thursday.
Mr Hunt said the specific cases raised by Ms Sharkie’s office were being followed up by the Department of Health as no doctors should be charging for any vaccine-related consultations.
“There are three principles to the Australian vaccination program. Firstly, that it is free, secondly, that it is voluntary, and thirdly that it is universally available, with enough vaccine for every Australian three times over,” he said.
“Charging a patient any cost associated with the administration of the COVID-19 vaccine, including booking fees, is a breach of the requirements under the program.”
Other doctors might charge patients over the course of the rollout and those instances would also be investigated, Mr Hunt said, but he expected most GPs would continue to do the right thing.
“They are doing an extraordinary job and what we have seen this week is a rapid escalation in the number of doses as the general practice phase one of the program has begun,” Mr Hunt said.
Royal Australian College of General Practitioners president Dr Karen Price said the college and the Australian Medical Association both agreed people should not be out of pocket for COVID-19 vaccines.
“If you’re a ‘heck yes’ for a vaccination, you don’t need a pre-vaccination consult,” she said.
AMA vice-president Dr Chris Moy said there was a medicare rebate to cover a quick COVID-19 vaccination assessment. For those who were eligible for phase 1b of the rollout because of underlying health conditions, there was also no requirement to move all their documentation to the vaccinating clinic, he said.
“All you need to do is have some information in MyHealth Record or a medical summary or on the eligibility website it has a declaration you can fill out,” he said.
“You make an appointment and you should be able to get the shot free, bulk-billed.”
More than 1000 GPs and 100 Commonwealth respiratory clinics began vaccinating the 6 million elderly and vulnerable included in phase 1b this week.
In the first three days of the week, more than 126,000 vaccines were administered, rising from 30,000 doses on Monday to more than 49,000 on Wednesday. So far, 408,000 vaccines have been administered across the country.
As the rollout gathers pace, the government has partnered with UNICEF Australia to help build confidence in the vaccines among culturally and linguistically diverse communities.
“We can buy the vaccines, deliver the vaccines, train health workers in administering vaccines, but all this is pointless if, at the end of the journey, people don’t want to roll up their sleeve,” Chief Health Officer Professor Paul Kelly said while announcing the joint initiative.
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