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‘This is an equity issue’, says RACGP President Dr Nicole Higgins

Health Industry Hub | April 20, 2023 |

New figures have revealed that healthcare in Australia is becoming increasingly inaccessible due to an insufficient Medicare rebate.

Only 35% of GPs are still bulk billing all new patients, according to the latest data. Tasmania and the Australian Capital Territory have the lowest bulk billing rates at 6.9% and 5.5% respectively. New South Wales tops the list at 49%.

RACGP President, Dr Nicole Higgins, said the results show the cost of years of neglect of general practice. She said that Medicare has not kept up with the cost of running a practice, and that general practice can no longer subsidise care.

During a panel discussion at the Australian Private Hospitals Association (APHA) congress Dr Elizabeth Deveny, CEO of Consumer Health Forum highlighted that from the consumer perspective healthcare is becoming more unaffordable, more inaccessible and almost un-navigatable.

“So you end up with people who delay care. Funding models need to support the healthcare of consumers. Consumers don’t really care who’s paying. They just want to know it’s not them, because they’ve paid enough [through tax and private health insurance],” Dr Deveny stated.

Dr Higgins said “General practices already pay payroll tax for their employees including nurses and receptionists. The added burden of extra payroll tax will only add to the problem. This Sick Tax might boost state revenue, but it’s ultimately patients who pay.

“This is an equity issue, and the government must act to save fair access to healthcare in the upcoming budget. The government can’t address this without substantially increasing the Medicare rebate and tripling the bulk billing incentive.

“But we also need a health system that is fit to manage Australia’s aging population and increasing rates of chronic conditions. That means giving GPs the resources to see patients for longer to address their complex health needs, from mental health challenges to menopause. Now, a consultation receives a lower rebate the longer it continues. This penalises GPs who see patients with chronic conditions and multimorbidities, and it needs to change.

“GPs want to serve their communities fairly and ensure all their patients can access the care they need. When people can see their GP when they need to, rather than when they can afford to, they are less likely to experience expensive hospital emergency presentations and be healthier and happier at every stage of their lives. We need a system that supports this.

“GPs have sacrificed for years to maintain access to healthcare for their most vulnerable patients, but as we’ve seen with recent practice closures, once a practice is no longer financially viable, it has no choice but to close. It’s simple: GPs can’t afford to subsidise Medicare anymore.”

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