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12 May 2016

Doctors forced to abandon bulk billing because of the Government’s decision to extend the Medicare rebate freeze are likely to charge many of their patients up to $30 a visit, according to AMA President Professor Brian Owler.

In a stark warning of the big financial hit to household finances from the Budget decision to keep rebates on hold until 2020, Professor Owler said any fee charged would not be a token amount.

“Once the billing starts…it’s not going to be a small amount…it’s not going to be $2 that they invoice people, they're talking about invoicing $30, because the reality is there are significant costs associated once they move towards the system,” he said. “It changes the whole model of practice that they've been operating on.”

The Government has been accused of using the rebate freeze to introduce a patient co-payment “by stealth”, after previous attempts to introduce a $7 and a $5 co-payment were abandoned following a huge community backlash led by the AMA.

Medical practices to this point have largely absorbed the effects of the freeze, which was first introduced by Labor in 2013 and has since been extended twice by the Coalition Government, but Professor Owler said many had now reached “the tipping point”.

“Many GPs are now contacting the AMA, asking for assistance in how they transition their practices [from bulk billing to charging fees],” he said. “This is now a reality that bulk billing rates are going to go down.”

The AMA President said GPs had no choice because the costs of running a practice, such as rent, staff, utilities and equipment, were rising remorselessly and even when rebates had been indexed they had failed to keep pace. Combined with a seven-year rebate freeze, it meant the rebate was far short of the cost of providing health care.

He said many specialists already charge out-of-pocket expenses, and “I think now we're going to start to see this play out more and more in general practice”.

Adrian Rollins

Published: 12 May 2016