The number of GP clinics bulk billing all patients has halved in the last year, according to a new national health report.
Instead of charging patients for an appointment, a GP can receive payment directly from Medicare. This is called bulk billing. A recently launched Medicare incentive tripled payments for GPs who don’t charge out-of-pocket fees to some patients.
However, new data shows increasing financial pressures have forced many GPs to give up on bulk billing.
Bulk billing halves among GPs
A report from the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) found that 12% of Australian GPs were bulk billing all of their patients this year, down from 24% in 2022.
The number of GPs who bulk bill the majority of their patients was 40% in 2022. This fell to 30% this year.
GPs charging over $85 for a standard consultation almost doubled in the past year.
Why is bulk billing harder to find?
Medicare has caps on how much it reimburses GPs for their services.
These prices depend on several factors, including a patient’s age or location, and the type of consultation performed.
Despite rising prices over the past 18 months, Medicare rebates haven’t risen at the same rate as inflation. As a result, more GPs say they’re unable to keep up with rising out-of-pocket costs.
This has led more GPs to adopt mixed billing, while others have scrapped bulk billing entirely.
Mixed billing is when patients pay the full cost of an appointment and then are reimbursed some of the cost by Medicare.
Doctors who contributed to the RACGP findings reported increasing job dissatisfaction levels, and significant concerns about their workload.
Over 70% of GPs experienced burnout this year, while less than half said they would recommend becoming a GP to junior colleagues.
The report also warned of a ‘looming workforce crisis’, with 29% of practising GPs saying they intended to retire in the next five years.
Federal Government response
Health Minister Mark Butler told TDA it’s never been harder to see a bulk billing doctor, and accused the former Government of “deliberately” misleading Australians on “the true state of bulk billing”.
He said without investment in Medicare, “services would continue to decline”, but that “the largest investment in bulk billing in the 40-year history of Medicare” (included in this year’s budget) would “make it easier to see a bulk billing doctor for more than 11 million Australians”.