Bulk-billing boost for vulnerable patients

Friday, 03 November, 2023

Bulk-billing boost for vulnerable patients

The federal government has announced that the bulk-billing incentive for pensioners, other Commonwealth concession cardholders and children under 16 will be tripled for most common GP consults.

Together, these patients account for around three out of five visits to the GP. The move hopes to make it easier to find a bulk-billing doctor for around five million children and their families, and seven million pensioners and other concession cardholders.

At the 2023–24 Budget, the federal government had announced a $1.5 billion indexation boost to Medicare payments, with the increase also taking effect on 1 November.

The indexation boost and tripling of the bulk-billing incentive provides a significant increase to the Medicare payments that GPs get to bulk bill eligible patients.

In major cities, a doctor will get 34% more for a standard bulk-billed consultation of under 20 minutes (a Level B consultation), taking the Medicare payment for eligible patients to $62.05.

In regional and rural Australia, a doctor will get around 50% more for the same visit, taking the Medicare payment to between $72.80 and $81.10, depending on location.

A new Medicare rebate for GP consultations of 60 minutes or longer will also commence today, giving patients a rebate of $191.20 and doctors the time to provide better care for people with complex physical and mental conditions.

Patients registered with MyMedicare will now be able to access Medicare rebates for longer telephone consultations from their registered practice. Voluntary registration for MyMedicare opened to patients on 1 October, and more than 150,000 people have registered so far with their preferred general practice and will now get access to longer telehealth consults.

RACGP President Dr Nicole Higgins said, “Bulk billing has declined significantly in recent years because Medicare rebates have been below inflation for years, and are nowhere near the cost of care. GPs have been subsidising the full cost of care every time they bulk bill their patients.

“The increased Veteran Access Payment is important support for our veterans. This will support GPs to deliver care for veterans who hold a Department of Veterans’ Affairs Gold or White Card.

“And it comes at a critical time. There were reports earlier this year that practices in high-cost areas could no longer afford to bulk bill all veterans. Veterans can often have complex health needs, making access to high-quality and ongoing GP care essential.

“These changes are essential targeted relief for patients who need it most, but this significant investment follows decades of underfunding. It’s very clear there is a long way to go in strengthening Medicare, but this is an important first step and a major investment for families and our most vulnerable patients.

“We don’t like to think in these terms, but if people delay care due to costs, health issues can progress and not just cause more harm, but increase the strain on hospitals and cost more for the health system to address. The average cost to the government for a non-admitted emergency department presentation in 2020–21 was $611, yet it costs the government just $79.70 to support a patient to spend 20–40 minutes with their GP.

“When people can see their GP when they need to, rather than when they can afford to, they are less likely to present at hospital emergency departments. You should be able to see a GP when you need to,” Higgins said.

Image credit: iStockphoto.com/skodonnell

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