Rachel Fieldhouse


Why bulk billing may be on the verge of collapse

Why bulk billing may be on the verge of collapse

If you’ve noticed that trips to the doctor are getting more expensive, you’re not the only one.

With a continuing decline in the number of local GPs, a shortfall of doctors trained overseas arriving in Australia, rising operating costs and plummeting revenue from Medicare rebates, many clinics have been left with no other choice than to start charging fees, including those who need their services most.

Over the past decade, the average out-of-pocket expenses for GP services have risen by 60 percent, as reported by The Daily Mail.

As a result, a growing number of GPs are starting to advise their patients that they can no longer bulk-bill, a practice the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners vice-president Bruce Willett says is no longer sustainable.

“It’s now got to the point where practices can no longer sustain bulk billing,” he told The Australian.

Director Peter Stratmann said bulk billing no longer being a viable option has resulted in the sector heading to the brink of collapse, with clinics closing and a need to charge fees to make ends meet.

“We've seen practices having to close and increasingly in the last number of weeks we've seen practices impose private billing fees, because otherwise they won't make it,”  Dr Stratmann said. 

“They just can't make ends meet without imposing some private fees.”

Dr Stratmann admitted that this will put pensioners in a difficult position and that he fears they will overwhelm the hospital system for non-urgent care.

In 2021, almost nine out of ten GP visits in Australia were bulk billed with no out-of-pocket expenses for the patient, with GP bulk billing rates growing to a record high of 88.4 percent in the December quarter according to Medicare data.

The news comes just days after health minister Mark Butler addressed the issues facing primary care at the annual Australasian Medical Association conference, saying it is in “worse shape than it’s been in the entire Medicare era”.

“It's hard enough to get a GP right now and we know that the current generation of older GPs are pretty exhausted, particularly over the last two and a half years, and we just do not have the pipeline coming through,”  Mr Butler said.

'It is probably the most terrifying trend that I see in primary care.'

As part of its commitment to general practice, the federal government has established the Strengthening Medicare Taskforce, boosted by a $750 million Strengthening Medicare fund.

“The government is committed to ensuring Australians get the care they need, when they need it and without worrying about the cost,” Mr Butler said.

Image: Getty Images

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