Aussie patients further out of pocket when seeing their GP: RACGP

22 August, 2017

The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners says new figures released by the Department of Health recently paint a mixed picture for general practice and for Australian patients.

RACGP President Dr Bastian Seidel said while bulk-billing for Medicare has gone up by 0.6% for general practice items, this is the lowest growth in bulk-billing for almost a decade, and may indicate that the growth seen over many years is reaching a turning point.

"Bulk billing statistics have been used for political spin for too long," Dr Seidel said.

"As always with simplified statistics, the devil is buried deep in the detail: a marginally increased bulk billing rate fails to acknowledge that Australian patients are further out of pocket when they visit their GP."

Dr Seidel said out of pocket costs for GP services increased by 4.6% in the last year.

"Out of pocket costs for patients visiting a GP increased at almost triple the rate of inflation," Dr Seidel said.

"Vulnerable patients will delay seeing their GP if they are faced with increased out of pocket expenses.

"Today's figures also reveal that, as a percentage of population, 1% less people accessed healthcare than in the previous 12 months.

"That's around 200,000 fewer Australian patients accessing healthcare."

Dr Seidel said the rise in the average out of pocket cost could explain why fewer Australians were accessing healthcare.

"The average out of pocket cost has risen to $35.83," Dr Seidel said.

"This is almost the same value as a standard GP consultation."

Dr Seidel also said general practice continues to be the most efficient component of our health system.

"The benefit paid per patient is only $353 per year – or $29 a month. GPs can no longer be expected to provide world class, comprehensive healthcare at bottom basement bargain rates," Dr Seidel said.

"We will see an even further increase in out of pocket fees, as the low Medicare rebates for bulk billed consultations for some patients will be cross subsidised by the out of pocket contribution from others. This is unsustainable.

"This is why the RACGP has been calling for greater investment and appropriate funding for general practice.

"Australians deserve an equitable and accessible health care system, and appropriately funded general practice is absolutely fundamental to this."