GPs charge for children
By AMANDA MORRALL - The Press | Tuesday, 24 July 2007

Free healthcare for children under six is proving harder to find as more doctors charge fees to see their youngest patients.

A Consumer magazine survey has found that in the past two years there has been almost a 10 per cent drop in the number of practices offering no-cost healthcare for patients under six.

In recent weeks, several general practitioners in Canterbury have starting charging from $5 to $15 a visit.

Wayne Reid, contracts manager for the Partnership Health Organisation, which represents 107 practices, said yesterday that many practices were having to impose fees to cover rising costs.

Only 30 per cent of its members now offered free care for children under six.

Reid said the cumulative impact of KiwiSaver, an extra week of paid holiday leave for staff and higher pay for nurses (who recently won 19 per cent increases) was driving up costs for doctors.

"Some of these practices are looking down the gun barrel at tens of thousands of dollars in back pay. It's a lot of money," Reid said.

"It (fees for under-sixes) is certainly starting to become more common in the past few weeks."

The Canterbury District Health Board says there is an "expectation" that primary health organisations do not charge for under-sixes. Those that do must first seek approval from the health board.

A board spokeswoman said the board had only once turned down a fee increase application by a local GP.

Deb Wood, a Lyttelton mother of two aged under six, said she was surprised by the inconsistency in fee charges across New Zealand.

Last year, the family lived in Auckland and did not have to pay for doctor's visits for their children.

At their local clinic in Lyttelton, where they are registered patients, she pays $10 per child per visit.

When she took a sick child to Linwood she was told there would have been no cost if the child was a registered patient.

Wood said she was puzzled there was not a greater commitment to free healthcare for young children.

"It would be nice if it were free, even if it was just for under-twos," she said.
Dr Mark Peterson, of the New Zealand Medical Association, said most doctors could no longer afford to subsidise patient care for under-sixes.

He said the $39 that the doctors were paid for under-sixes did not reflect true costs.

"GPs have often been holding fees for the under-sixes at an artificially low level and it's become unsustainable."

Even at $5 a visit, doctors were still subsidising the cost of a visit, he said.
Partnership Health said the average GP fee for under-sixes was $7, but the range was $5 to $40 for a specialist practice.

From here