The Federal Government has threatened to “throw the book” at a GP clinic that has been charging a $370 consultation fee to administer Pfizer shots in one of Sydney’s worst COVID-hit areas.
A notice posted on the window of Blessed Health Care clinic in Campsie in south-west Sydney, written in Chinese and English, is asking patients to pay up to $250 for a “vaccine consultation” before their first dose.
The cost of a consultation for the second jab, according to the notice, would be up to $120 if administered on a Sunday.
A GP at Blessed Health Care told the ABC there had been a misunderstanding and that while vaccine was free, it was charging a consultation fee as any other private practice would.
Health Minister Greg Hunt was today incensed by the reports and said his department would investigate.
“This is plain, bad behaviour,” he said.
“If this story is accurate, we’ll throw the book at them. The reason why is very simple, the vaccine is free. The consultation for the vaccine is paid to be bulk billed.
“We’ve invested very significantly, the figure is $10 billion, in the Australian vaccine rollout. That includes free vaccines for every Australian and free consultations.”
ABC News: Kamin Gock
A woman in her 20s, who did not wished to be named, told the Australian Associated Press (AAP) she paid the $250 fee at the clinic because she didn’t want to risk waiting months for the Pfizer jab.
The Malaysian woman said she was on a bridging visa and did not have Medicare. She said her colleagues, who were on temporary visas, had been vaccinated the same way.
“I wanted to get it quickly, to be safer, so I paid the money,” she told AAP in Mandarin.
She said she would return for her second dose in six weeks and would be charged at least $60, but said the cost was “not fair”.
Campsie sits in the local government area of Canterbury-Bankstown, one of the first suburbs in the NSW Delta outbreak to be subjected to enhanced lockdown orders preventing residents from leaving their community.
The suburb currently has 38 active COVID-19 cases in the community and NSW Health has flagged almost 75 alerts for venues of concern since July 15.
Shadow Health Minister Mark Butler said any residents in south-west Sydney who had paid to get their jab should be refunded.
“It”s a matter for [Prime Minister] Scott Morrison to determine if he pays them or he forces the doctors to pay them,” Mr Butler said.
“He is responsible for Medicare and delivering his promise that all Australians would get vaccinated free of charge, and any consultation associated with the vaccine.”
A spokesperson for the Department of Health said the COVID-19 vaccine was free for anyone living in Australia.
“GPs cannot charge out of pocket costs for any service provided relating to a COVID-19 suitability assessment or vaccination,” the spokesperson said.
“If an individual does not have a Medicare card, or is not eligible for Medicare, they can be directed to their closest Commonwealth Vaccination Clinic or State or Territory Vaccination Site.
“Alternatively, vaccine providers can administer the vaccine but [it] must be free of charge.”
The spokesperson said the Health Department and the National COVID-19 Vaccine Taskforce (NCVTF) took such allegations seriously and medical providers caught breaching the rules could be met with “a range of responses including education, review, audit and investigation into breaches of Australian laws”.
Non-compliant GP practices could also be paused or withdrawn from the vaccination program.