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Only one in four GPs are bulk billing all adults in Australia

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Fewer GPs are bulk billing while out-of-pocket costs to see a doctor have increased — according to new data from online health directory Cleanbill.

It found the number of clinics bulk billing all patients has dropped by more than 10% in the past year. This is despite new Medicare incentives to encourage more GPs to bulk bill.

Instead of charging patients for an appointment, a GP can receive payment directly from Medicare through a process called bulk billing.

Here’s what you need to know.

Bulk billing

The bulk billing ‘incentive’ is a payment given to GPs who bulk bill certain patients. In November, it tripled for face-to-face ‘general attendance’ consults over 6 minutes, and for phone and video consults over 20 minutes.

For example, a GP can now claim $20.65 (up from $6.60) in urban areas for eligible patients such as pensioners. This incentive has also risen from $12.70 to $39.65 in the most remote areas.

Note: ‘General attendance’ doesn’t include chronic disease management, minor procedures and mental health items covered by the Better Access program.

New data

In April 2023, Cleanbill surveyed 6,818 Australian General Practice clinics to determine how accessible bulk billing was in every state and territory.

The group then surveyed these GP clinics again in November, to see how their services had changed going into 2024.

Findings

Cleanbill’s survey found roughly one in four GP clinics in Australia now bulk bill all patients — an 11% decrease from the start of 2023.

Tasmania had the lowest bulk billing rates, with 1% of the state’s GP clinics offering bulk billing to all patients.

WA had the steepest reduction of GP clinics bulk billing all adults in 2023, down from 26% to 9%.

Higher costs

Patients may get a partial rebate (refund) from Medicare to cover some of the cost of a GP visit. The gap between how much a patient pays to see a GP and the amount they receive back is called the “out-of-pocket” cost.

According to Cleanbill, the average national out-of-pocket fee jumped by 3.1% in 2023, from $40.45 to $41.68.

Tasmania had the highest average out-of-pocket fee increase of 8.5%.

Response

President of the Royal Australian College of GPs, Dr Nicole Higgins, blamed the increased fees for patients on cost pressures on doctors.

Dr Higgins said tripling the bulk billing incentive has been helpful for certain people, such as pensioners and children. But she said “more needs to be done to ensure care is affordable for the rest of the population”.

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