GPs waging a health fee war

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Queenstown’s biggest medical centre is in a price fight with its much smaller rivals. 

“I think you’ll actually find all our prices are significantly less than theirs,” Wakatipu Medical Centre GP Val Miller says of the larger Queenstown Medical Centre. 

Newcomer Midtown Medical is also cheaper across the board than QMC. 

Mountain Scene approached QMC and WMC to discuss consultation fees advertised on the local Primary Health Organisation (PHO) website – only to find WMC charges less than it advertises. 

WMC’s promoted price for enrolled patients aged six to 17 is $35. 

“But what we actually do charge is $20,” Miller says. 

GPs have to get PHO approval to raise prices, she says. “So we have that [$35 price approved] but we don’t ever utilise it.” 

It’s a buffer in case costs rise suddenly, Miller adds. Likewise, $51 promoted for patients 18 and over is actually $48. WMC patients five and under get the ultimate discount – they’re free – while rival QMC charges $11.
“We get enough government subsidy to cover it,” Miller says. 

QMC boss Dr Richard Macharg sees it differently. 

“You get more subsidy for five-and-unders and a lesser subsidy for six-to-17s,” he says. 

QMC deducts the different subsidies from its standard fee and charges the patient what’s left, Macharg adds. 

WMC is “cross-subsidising” under-fives, he claims. 

QMC prices are higher because of their concentration on quality and comprehensive care, Macharg claims. 

Both QMC and WMC say they’ll add the GST increase later this year but WMC will otherwise hold its under-six and six-to-17 prices, Miller says.

Kids come first and money comes second

If one of her young daughters is ill, Nickie Hay of Kelvin Heights is straight off to the doctor, regardless of cost. 

But her GP, Dr Val Miller of Wakatipu Medical Centre, isn’t available on weekends and nor does WMC hold weekend clinics – so if Georgia, 6, or Ella, 2 (above), are ill on Saturdays or Sundays, Hay goes to Queenstown Medical Centre which offers a seven-day service. 

“And we’ve had to pay horrendous prices for the after-hours,” Hay says. 

Medical bills are a greater part of family expenditure now Georgia has out-grown the under-sixes-free scheme.
“And I’m quite a regular visitor to the doctor as well,” Hay says. 

She’s been with Miller eight years. “She’s extremely good, she’s been marvellous for this family,” Hay says.