Amidst the rising cost of living and in the aftermath of the pandemic, it has been increasingly hard to find a GP that completely bulk bills, which as left many people with out-of-pocket costs that they can’t afford. This struggle has been especially concerning for pensioners who have not seen an effective increase in their pension so far despite rising inflation.
The problem has been compounded by the Australian Medical Association’s (AMA) recommendation that doctors raise their fees for a third time this year for non-bulk billed appointments in order to match rising operating costs.
However, there has been a bit of welcome reprieve for pensioners this week due to changes to Medicare from the Albanese government taking effect. The incentive that general practitioners receive to bulk bill for children under 16, pensioners, and other Commonwealth concession cardholders has now been tripled for most common GP consults.
This means it will now be easier for 7 million pensioners and other concession cardholders to access bulk billed GP appointments. At the 2023 – 24 Budget, the Albanese Government also announced a $1.5 billion indexation boost to Medicare payments. This increase has also taken effect this week.
Overall, 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. The increases to Medicare this year are the largest to be made since the days of the Keating government.
There are also a host of additional changes to medicare that have also taken effect this week.
A new Medicare rebate for GP consultations of 60 minutes or longer has commenced, giving GP’s the ability to deliver better care for people with complex physical and mental conditions.
The MyMedicare program, that is aimed at allowing the elderly and those suffering from chronic health conditions more regular contact with their preferred GP, also begins its rollout this week.
Patients registered with MyMedicare can now access Medicare rebates for longer telephone consultations from their registered practice. Since voluntary registration for MyMedicare opened to patients on the 1st of October, more than 150,000 people have registered with their preferred general practice and can now access longer tele-health consults.
AMA Vice President Dr Danielle McMullen welcomed the changes as a good start to addressing the current state of bulk-billing in Australia.
“Tripling the bulk billing incentives is a good place to begin restoring affordable access to primary care, as it will provide targeted cost-of-living relief for patients who need it most.
“While GPs remain free to determine their own fees, these changes will go some way to addressing the growing social inequities as Australia’s GP bulk billing rates continue to decline,” Dr McMullen said.