The Abbott government has accused Labor of mounting a “disgraceful and alarmist” scare campaign over reports patients who crowd emergency departments with minor ailments may be charged.
The government is reportedly considering a plan to deter people from visiting emergency departments by charging them if they show up with minor complaints such as stubbed toes or common colds.
The proposal would come as part of the possible introduction of a $6 Medicare co-payment, which many believe would lead to hospital overcrowding, News Corp Australia reported on Wednesday.
The federal opposition said the “hospital tax” would deter sick people from seeking medical help altogether, and drive Australia towards an American-style health system.
But Health Minister Dutton says the opposition is preying on vulnerable Australians by “spreading rumours and untruths”.
“Labor knows full well the administration of hospital emergency departments is a matter for the states and territories,” Mr Dutton said in a statement.
“We will not engage in unhelpful speculation on the budget – we simply do not play the rule in, rule out game that the Labor Party is so fond of.”
Labor’s health spokesman Catherine King warned the proposal would “spell the end of Medicare”.
“Make no mistake – a new hospital tax like this will mean that some people will not get the medical help they need,” she said in a statement.
“I am deeply concerned about what will happen if Australians avoid getting to a hospital when they need to because Tony Abbott is making it unaffordable.”