Healthcare at a crossroads: Alarm bells sound over rising costs and plummeting bulk billing rates

Jan 08, 2024
As the nation grapples with these troubling trends in healthcare, the call for immediate government action resonates louder than ever. Source: Julian Smith/AAP PHOTOS.

In an era where good health should be a fundamental right, Australians are facing an increasingly challenging landscape when it comes to accessing affordable medical care.

A stark decline in the number of General Practitioners (GPs) offering bulk billing has ignited concerns among healthcare professionals and experts, prompting a call for urgent government intervention to make healthcare more accessible.

A recent report by healthcare monitors Cleanbill has shed light on the alarming statistics surrounding the cost of seeing a GP. The national average for out-of-pocket expenses now stands at a staggering $41.69, marking an unsettling increase of more than three percent from the previous year.

Even more concerning is the revelation that 11 percent fewer clinics across the nation are providing bulk billing services, exacerbating the financial strain on patients.

Among the states, Tasmania emerges as the epicentre of the issue, where less than one percent of clinics surveyed offered bulk billing. The Australian Capital Territory (ACT) closely followed suit with a mere 3.4 percent of clinics extending this service. New South Wales (NSW) took the lead in the nation, albeit with a modest 37.2 percent of clinics offering bulk billing.

President of the Royal Australian College of GPs, Nicole Higgins, expressed her concerns about the distressing figures, emphasising the urgent need for substantial reforms to alleviate the financial burden on patients.

“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.”

The Cleanbill report, which scrutinised nearly 7000 GP clinics, spotlighted Tasmania as the state with the highest average out-of-pocket costs, reaching $51.19 for a single visit. The ACT followed closely behind, trailed by NSW, Queensland, and Victoria. South Australia was the sole state boasting an average cost below $40, with a figure of $38.68.

Dr. Higgins underscored the critical importance of affordable GP care for all Australians.

“It’s also our most cost-effective health service, with a 20-minute GP consult costing around $40, whereas a visit to hospital costs over $600 and much more if a patient is admitted,” she said.

“While there’s no quick fix, we do need to keep up the momentum to secure the financial sustainability of general practice, enable bulk billing for those who need it, and ensure GP care is affordable for everyone.”

As the nation grapples with these troubling trends in healthcare, the call for immediate government action resonates louder than ever.

Australians are left hoping for a future where healthcare is truly within reach for all, without the prohibitive financial barriers currently in place.

-with AAP.


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