Book to be thrown at vax-charging GP: Hunt

Book to be thrown at vax-charging GP: Hunt

Charging residents in southwestern Sydney hundreds of dollars to receive the Pfizer vaccine is “plain bad behaviour”, Health Minister Greg Hunt says.

Blessed Health Care in coronavirus-affected Campsie has been charging patients between $80 and $250 for consultations and registration before administering the vaccine, AAP revealed on Wednesday.

A GP at the clinic said he was serving a marginalised community.

“We are not the villain, we are the helper,” Dr Ben Ang said.

Told of the reports on Thursday, the federal health minister said it was “plain bad behaviour”.

He said the $10 billion the government had set aside for the vaccine rollout was to cover vaccines and the GP consultations.

“If we can have the details, we will chase up the GP,” he said.

“If that story is accurate we will throw the book at them.

“The vaccine is free. The consultations for the vaccine are paid to be bulk-billed.”

Campsie has recorded 36 COVID-19 cases since July 19 and is in the Canterbury-Bankstown local government area – a major focus of Sydney's lockdown restrictions.

One woman who forked out $250 to receive the Pfizer jab on Saturday said she did not want to wait months to get the jab, given the high rates of virus transmission where she lives.

“I wanted to get it quickly, to be safer, so I paid the money,” she told AAP in Mandarin.

Her colleagues, also Malaysian citizens on temporary visas, had been vaccinated in the same way, she said.

“It's not fair, it should be free,” she said.

Cumberland councillor Kun Huang said the issue had been raised in at least three different groups on the Chinese-language app WeChat, with workers from Auburn and Lidcombe contemplating going to Campsie to get the jab.

He has been sent invoices from people who received the Pfizer vaccine at Blessed Health, which show they were charged $225 between July 24 and 26.

The item description is either a “new patient registration fee” or a “Level C Surgery” – a Medicare item for a long consultation.

The COVID-19 vaccine is free for everyone, a federal health department spokesperson told AAP. That includes people who do not have a Medicare card and applies regardless of visa status.

“Clinics cannot charge a patient any cost associated with the administration of the COVID-19 vaccine, including booking fees,” the spokesperson said.

“The Department of Health has made the requirements under the program clear with GPs and the overwhelming majority are doing the right thing.”

The department's web page states that the consult appointment for patients to receive the vaccination is free.

A Blessed Care nurse said the practice could not give the vaccine to new patients without first taking a medical history, and didn't provide for bulk billing.

Dr Ang, one of the clinic's doctors, said the clinic was not charging for the actual vaccine.

Chinese-speaking construction workers were crying out for help after struggling to book into vaccine hubs through English-language websites and believing the COVID shot was necessary for their work, he said.

The federal government said it was expanding its communication to culturally and linguistically diverse people.

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