World News

Australia Sees Over 360,000 Increase in Free Doctor Trips

Recent productivity commission data shows that Australians delayed seeing a doctor in the last financial year.

The bulk billing rate in Australia has increased by over 2 percent since the government raised incentives for trips to the doctor in November.

Australians have benefited from about 360,000 more trips to the doctor being bulk billed since the incentives were introduced, according to Health Minister Mark Butler.

The data was released on the 40th anniversary of Medicare, Australia’s publicly funded universal healthcare system.

Bulk billing occurs when the government covers the total cost of a visit to a GP, rather than the individual having to pay a gap fee.

However, a separate report released by healthcare comparison directory Cleanbill in January showed that the bulk billing rate in Australia has fallen by 11.1 percent in a year.

Mr. Butler said bulk billing had increased in all states and territories, and GPs and people in regional and rural areas “benefited the most.”

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According to Mr. Butler, an additional 202,000 free visits to the doctor have been made by people in regional and rural areas in just two months.

In the 2023-24 budget, the government tripled the incentive paid to GPs for bulk bill consultations for families with children under 16 years, pensioners, and concession card holders.

Mr. Butler stated that doctor groups have praised the tripling of the bulk billing incentive as a “game changer.” He emphasized that the Albanese government committed to making it easier for people to see a bulk billing doctor.

The Productivity Commission data, released on Jan. 31, showed that 7 percent of people delayed or did not see a GP in the last financial year due to cost. This number had doubled from the previous year.

The data also revealed that in the 2023 financial year, each person used 6.6 GP services, including 5.4 in person visits and 1.2 telehealth appointments. This was a decline from the previous year.

On average, the government spent $420 per person on GP visits in the 2023 financial year, down from the previous year. However, Australian government spending on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) rose.

A report by healthcare comparison directory Cleanbill showed that the national bulk billing rate for doctors in Australia is about 24 percent, with a reduction over the past year.

The report highlighted that average out of pocket costs to see a doctor have risen.

The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) welcomed new data from the government showing an increase in bulk billing for vulnerable patients nationwide. RACGP president Dr. Nicole Higgins said the federal budget last year was the largest investment in general practice care in decades.

“Today, Medicare turns 40. This is Australia’s public health insurance scheme, and it changed the course of health in our country,” Dr. Higgins said. “Now we have the data to show it—a 2.1 percent increase in bulk billing nationally since the government’s tripling of bulk billing incentives for healthcare card holders, pensioners, and children went live in November.”

Dr. Higgins emphasized the significance of Medicare and the need to strengthen it to better meet the needs of patients today and in the future.

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