From today, a tripled bulk billing incentive will help slow the decline in bulk billing for vulnerable patients and relieve pressure on hospitals, the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) has said.
The bulk billing incentive is a payment paid on top of the Medicare patient rebate for a GP consultation, and increases with the rurality of a practice. The Federal Government announced a tripled bulk billing incentive from 1 November in the May 2023 Federal Budget for general attendance consultations, after the RACGP called for it in its 2023-24 pre-budget submission.
The incentive has increased to between $20.65 and $39.70 for general attendance consultations, depending on location, for GPs who bulk bill children, pensioners, and healthcare card holders.
The Veteran Access Payment has also been tripled as of 1 November for all face-to-face consults longer than six minutes, all telephone and video consults from 6–20 minutes, and longer telehealth GP consults where a patient is registered through MyMedicare.
RACGP President Dr Nicole Higgins welcomed the increases.
“The tripling of bulk billing incentives for standard consultations is a critical stopgap to slow the decline in bulk billing,” she said.
“It is targeted relief that will help GPs to bulk bill more patients who need it – children, pensioners, and healthcare card holders.
“Bulk billing has declined significantly in recent years because Medicare rebates have been below inflation for years, and are nowhere near the cost of care. GPs have been subsidising the full cost of care every time they bulk bill their patients.
“The increased Veteran Access Payment is important support for our veterans. This will support GPs to deliver care for veterans who hold a Department of Veterans’ Affairs Gold or White Card.
“And it comes at a critical time. There were reports earlier this year that practices in high-cost areas could no longer afford to bulk bill all veterans. Veterans can often have complex health needs, making access to high-quality and ongoing GP care essential.
“These changes are essential targeted relief for patients who need it most, but this significant investment follows decades of underfunding. It’s very clear there is a long way to go in strengthening Medicare, but this is an important first step and a major investment for families and our most vulnerable patients.
“We don’t like to think in these terms, but if people delay care due to costs, health issues can progress and not just cause more harm, but increase the strain on hospitals and cost more for the health system to address. The average cost to the government for a non-admitted emergency department presentation in 2020-21 was $611, yet it costs the government just $79.70 to support a patient to spend 20–40 minutes with their GP.
“When people can see their GP when they need to, rather than when they can afford to, they are less likely to present at hospital emergency departments. You should be able to see a GP when you need to.”
The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) is the peak representative organisation for general practice, the backbone of Australia’s health system. We set the standards for general practice, facilitate lifelong learning for GPs, connect the general practice community, and advocate for better health and wellbeing for all Australians.