Linking GP co-payment with medical research fund a mistake, says Nobel prize winner

A Nobel prize-winning medical researcher has questioned the federal government's decision to link its proposed medical research fund with unpopular health savings, such as the controversial GP visit fee.

Rolf Zinkernagel, who together with Peter Doherty won the 1996 Nobel prize in physiology or medicine for work on how the immune system recognised virus-infected cells, said the research fund and a fee for visiting the doctor were fine ideas, but linking them was a mistake.

"The idea to have some sort of medical research fund is excellent, no doubt about it," he said.

"I personally wouldn't have chosen that particular pathway. I would have, for example, gone to the lottery fund."

Professor Zinkernagel, who travelled to Canberra this week from his home in Switzerland to receive a medal from the Australian National University, said he also supported asking patients to pay to see the doctor.

"It makes the patient conscious that you don't just walk to the doctor's or to the outpatient clinic for nothing, you have to take some of your own responsibility," he said.

"But whether it was a politically wise move to use these six or 10 bucks to fund medical research, I think politically that doesn't fly very easily. I would have justified it differently ... and would have taken the medical research money out of the politically and societally accepted pots."

The federal government has said its proposed $20 billion Medical Research Future Fund is conditional upon the passage of savings including a $7 fee for Medicare services.

But as things stand, the measure appears unlikely to pass the Senate. Labor, the Greens and the Palmer United Party strongly oppose the fee.

Terry Barnes, the former Howard government adviser who proposed a fee for doctor's visits in a submission to the Commission of Audit, will suggest on Tuesday that the $7 fee be reduced to $5, and paid directly to medical practices, tax-free, instead of funding medical research.

In a speech to a Catholic Health Australia conference in Brisbane, Mr Barnes also argues for the fee to be waived for pathology and diagnostic imaging services, and for pensions and welfare payments to be boosted to compensate recipients for the impost.

At least four government MPs and senators have called on cabinet to scrap the proposed fee for pensioners altogether but Mr Barnes will argue that compensating the maximum possible cost of the GP fee for a year would be "easier and cleaner to administer than selective exemptions". He will also launch a scathing attack on the assisted reproductive industry, saying Medicare subsidies for IVF services are a "licence to print money".

Mr Barnes has previously said paying rebates for IVF creates an incentive for endless rounds of treatments, regardless of whether the couple has a realistic chance of conceiving. And he will also hit out at commercial surrogacy, describing it as an "affront to God and nature", and a practice that should never be allowed in Australia because it would be exploited by the "greedy" industry.

This story Linking GP co-payment with medical research fund a mistake, says Nobel prize winner first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.