The Government is pleased bulk billing rates for GP services have reached record highs,” said Health Minister Ms Plibersek in May this year. This comment shows that the minister doesn’t understand general practice. It is in line with earlier comments when she stated that GPs receiving $300,000 a year from Medicare were earning a reasonable income; she thought that this whole amount went into the pockets of doctors.
General practice is a business with high practice costs such as salaries for receptionists, nurses, registrars, practice managers including pay roll tax, superannuation etc – as well as operating expenses such as rent, electricity, cleaners, computers, continuing professional development, accreditation and professional and business insurances. Ms Plibersek didn’t have a clue that these costs and salaries have to be met from the doctors fees.
Now she is proud of the high bulk billing rates, but at the same time she has decided to freeze the Medicare rebates this year! This is a penny wise, pound foolish approach, as it has the following consequences for patients:
- Practices will not be able bulk bill anymore
- The gap fee (out-of-pocket costs) will further increase
- The quality of services will decrease (for example because practices cannot afford to employ nurses or offer other on-site services, which in turn will lead to more referrals and expensive hospital presentations)
The AMA has warned that the government’s indexation of Medicare rebates has not kept pace with the rising cost of practice over the years: On average the costs increase by 3.3% each year, while Medicare rebates only increase by 2.1% per year (see figure below) – and as said, this year they will not go up at all.
Freezing Medicare rebates means that patients get less back from Medicare. Bulk billing should be available for people in financial difficulty, but the current all-time low rebates are not sustainable and are negatively affecting our health care system and the health of Australians.
The next government must improve the rebates.