May 12, 2023

GPs incentivised to bulk bill: what does that mean for you?

gp update
The Government suggests about half of the Australian population qualifies for the bulk billing incentives. [Source: Shutterstock]

Last week’s Federal Budget came with key incentives for General Practitioners (GPs) to restore bulk billing services, particularly for people on pensions and low income and patients have already begun enquiring about the changes with their doctors.

At a time when finding a bulk billed GP appointment is becoming harder and harder, patients are eager to find out whether they won’t have to cough up so much for basic healthcare.

So when will the knock-on effects help those who need it?

The changes

Bulk billing incentives will be put in place from November 1 with triple the incentive being awarded for GPs in rural and remote areas.

From November 1 this year, GPs who bulk-bill will receive $20.65 as an incentive from the Government for a general face-to-face or telehealth consultation instead of $6.85. GPs working in very remote areas will receive $39.65. This is different from the total amount GPs receive from the Government for bulk billing a patient. This money goes on top of that. 

These consultations include home visits for people who are homebound and consultations in residential aged care facilities.

Will everyone be able to book a bulk-billed appointment?

No. The increased incentives are for GP consultations with children under 16, pensioners and other Commonwealth concession card holders.

This leaves out a portion of people in the middle that don’t qualify for the appointments but still struggle to afford health care.

The Consumers Health Forum (CHF) Chief Executive, Dr Elizabeth Deveny, told The Guardian that there’s “definitely a middle group who are not in scope for this, but whose healthcare costs may still be significant”.

“It might be a family with a double income but with multiple chronic health conditions in the family. Maybe their kids have health conditions that require them to see a number of health practitioners, but this incentive only applies to GP appointments, and not psychology or speech pathology for example.”

But funding was also allocated to patients who choose to register their preferred GP clinic through MyMedicare so they can have access to longer telehealth consultations.

Those GP clinics, or providers, will also receive Government incentives to provide care from a range of health practitioners.

Do GPs have to bulk bill?

GPs have the choice to offer bulk billing or not.

GP and medical associations have previously said bulk billing was causing them to take a loss which is why they began enforcing gap payments from patients. This also was part of the motivaton for the Government incentives. 

When the Budget was announced last Tuesday, Finance Minister, Katy Gallagher, reiterated that bulk-billing is up to the discretion of GPs.

“The issue is the Commonwealth can’t dictate to GPs that they need to bulk bill,” she said. “That’s a decision that general practitioners make for themselves,” she said.

Ms Deveny said while about half of our population qualifies for the incentives, that didn’t mean half the population will end up benefiting from them.

“A GP could decide they are still not interested in bulk billing,” she said.

“So will practices actually drop their out-of-pocket costs, given they are no longer having to dig into its patients’ pockets in order to support bulk billing?”

We will have to wait and see what the answer is.

Will you benefit from new changes to bulk billing? Or are you still going to have to pay out-of-pocket? Let us know in the comments below.

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