Abbott hints at budget co-payment

"Free services to patients are certainly not free to taxpayers," he said in a pre-budget speech.

That's being taken to mean the much flagged co-payment – possibly as much as $7.50 – is almost a certainty.

The co-payment fits neatly into Treasurer Joe Hockey's pledge to end the age of entitlement and with his "early warning bell" about the sustainability of Medicare.

The cost of the taxpayer-funded universal health scheme has spiralled in the past 10 years, from $8 billion in 2002–03 to $19 billion.

As the population ages that spending is projected to increase to $80 billion.

Australians will have to wait until budget day to see if the government adopts any of the audit's other recommendations including an increase in co-payments for taxpayer-funded medicines, and a more than doubling of the Medicare surcharge paid by high-income earners.

Medicare Locals could be in the government's sights, despite a