Bulk billing is “unsustainable” in a cost of living crisis

Doctors have warned Australia’s bulk billing system is unsustainable, with overworked doctors forced to charge patients for appointments amid soaring demand.

General practices nationwide have notified patients of their intention to move away from bulk billing patients, which has become unsustainable in the face of rising costs and a shortage of doctors.

The gap between a general practitioner’s fee and the Medicare refund paid to the practices has more than tripled in the last 10 years, leaving many GPs with no choice but to charge fees.

As the cost of living crisis continues to add pressure for everyday families, the average out of patient pocket costs for GP services have increased 50 per cent over the last decade.

Health care costs are rising faster than wages, but 85 per cent of Australians are seeing their GP at least once a year, if not more, especially during the pandemic.

The Australian Medical Association’s (AMA) recommended fee of around $86 and the standard GP consult Medicare rebate of $39.10 has grown by $13.50 over a decade, sitting at around $47.

With fees increasing, GPs have no choice but to fast track appointments, restricting time with each patient to try to squeeze more in to increase billing.

The AMA has supported the move away from bulk billing, lowering doctors’ dependence on the government to make an income.

The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners report from 2021 shows one in five GPs are employed at bulk billing clinics, while 64 per cent of GPs reported bulk billing most of their patients.

Australian Society of General Practice president Chris Irwin told The Australian up to 60 per cent of general practices which currently provide bulk billing were looking to implement fees.

“It’s all anyone is talking about in general practice,” Dr Irwin said.

“It’s extremely hard for GPs because they just want to serve the community and … protect the most vulnerable. But we’re just getting to the point that if something doesn’t change, there literally won’t be general practice in 10 years.”

The country’s shortage of doctors is so dire, travelling GPs are being offered as much as $3,500 a day to work in regional areas across the country.

The Australian Taxation Office has revealed GPs earn considerably less than other medical professionals, often taking home half the salary of specialists.

Originally published as Bulk billing ‘unsustainable’ in a cost of living crisis

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