Fewer doctors offer bulk billing as consult costs rise

A fall in the number of GPs bulk billing highlights the need for the government to make health care more affordable, doctors say.

A report by healthcare monitors Cleanbill revealed the national average for out-of-pocket costs to see a GP is now $41.69, up by more than three per cent on 2023.

The data showed an 11 per cent drop in the number of clinics offering bulk billing compared to the previous year.

Less than one per cent of clinics surveyed in Tasmania offer bulk billing, while the figure was 3.4 per cent in the ACT.

NSW had the highest rate in the nation, with 37.2 per cent of clinics offering bulk billing.

Royal Australian College of GPs president Nicole Higgins said the figures were a sign more was needed to be done to improve the cost of seeing a doctor.

“While the government’s tripling of bulk billing incentives has helped more GPs bulk bill specific groups, including children, pensioners and healthcare card holders, more needs to be done to ensure care is affordable for the rest of the population,” Dr Higgins said.

“This situation is a direct result of the 10-year freeze on patient Medicare rebates.”

Dr Higgins said GP care was the most cost-effective health service, with a 20-minute consult costing around $40 whereas a hospital visit costs more than $600, and much more if a patient is admitted.

Treasurer Jim Chalmers admitted while it was difficult for patients to see a bulk-billing GP, work was under way to improve the situation.

“We are working as fast as we can, with as many resources as we can to try and turn that situation around,” he told reporters in Brisbane on Monday.

“I don’t think anybody anticipates when you make a big investment (in Medicare) the full impact is not felt on day one, it’s felt over time.”

While the federal government pledged to open 58 urgent care clinics across Australia, only one-third are operating at full hours due to staff shortages.

Opposition health spokeswoman Anne Ruston said the drop in bulk billing rates was alarming.

“This is a seriously concerning trend that Australians just cannot afford,” she said.

“Not only is it pushing up out of pocket expenses for families, but we also know that a weakened primary care system only increases the pressure on our over-burdened hospitals.”

The Cleanbill report, which examined almost 7000 GP clinics, revealed Tasmanian patients had the highest average out-of-pocket costs, with $51.19 for a visit.

The ACT was the next most expensive, followed by NSW, Queensland and Victoria.

South Australia was the only state with an average below $40, with a cost of $38.68.


Andrew Brown
(Australian Associated Press)


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