A trip to the doctor could soon become much more painful for Australians with the nation’s bulk billing system on the brink of collapse as patient demand skyrockets.
Hundreds of clinics are struggling to survive due to a drop in GP numbers and a shortfall of overseas-trained doctors coming to Australia.
Rising operating costs are also hurting practices as revenue from Medicate rebates continues plummet.
The average out-of-pocket expenses for GP services have risen by 60 per cent in the last decade.
Many clinics have been left with no other choice but to start charging gap fees to all patients, including those who need their services the most in order to keep their doors open.
GPs have begun advising to patients that they can no longer bulk bill – a practice that’s becoming more widespread.
A growing number of GPs are making the heartbreaking decision to end bulk billing and slug patients with the full cost (stock image)
‘It’s now got to a point where practices can no longer sustain bulk billing,’ Royal Australian College of General Practitioners vice-president Bruce Willett told The Australian.
Some of Australia’s biggest medical centre operators joined forces earlier this year to form the Primary Care Business Council to address the many challenges facing GPs.
Director Peter Stratmann said the sector is on the brink of collapse because bulk billing is no longer financially viable.
The Medicare Benefits Schedule rebate for a standard consultation recently rose by 65 cents to $39.75.
‘We’ve seen practices having to close and increasingly in the last number of weeks we’ve seen practices impose private billing fees, because otherwise they won’t make it,’ Dr Stratmann said.
‘They just can’t make ends meet without imposing some private fees.’
He admitted the dire situation puts pensioners in a terrible position and fears they will overwhelm the hospital system for non-urgent care at a higher cost to taxpayers.
GPS clinics are struggling to keep their doors open, despite growing patient demand (pictured patients queueing at a doctor’s clinic during the pandemic)
Almost nine out of 10 GP visits across Australia in 2021 were bulk billed with no out-of-pocket cost for the patient.
According to the latest Medicare data, GP bulk billing rates grew to a record high of 88.4 per cent in the December quarter 2021, a slight increase of 0.3 per cent from 12 months prior.
The news comes days after health minister Mark Butler warned primary care is in ‘worse shape than it’s been in the entire Medicare era’ while addressing the annual Australian Medical Association conference.
‘It’s hard enough to get a GP right now and we know that the current generation of older GPs are pretty exhausted, particularly over the last two and a half years, and we just do not have the pipeline coming through,’ Mr Butler told the conference.
‘It is probably the most terrifying trend that I see in primary care.’
Anthony Albanese’s government has set up the Strengthening Medicare Taskforce boosted by a $750m Strengthening Medicare fund as part of its commitment to general practice.
‘The government is committed to ensuring Australians get the care they need, when they need it and without worrying about the cost,’ Mr Butler said.
Royal Australian College of General Practitioners vice-president Bruce Willett (pictured) says GP practices can no longer sustain bulk billing