Aussies saved an estimated $15m in GP gap fees after tripling of the bulk bill incentive

Aussies have saved an estimated $15m in out-of-pocket fees on their visits to the doctor, according to fresh data.

New figures released by the government showed an estimated 360,000 additional trips to the GP were bulk-billed since the incentive was tripled last November.

The data, released by Health Minister Mark Butler on Thursday, coincides with the 40th anniversary of Medicare and comes as the government seeks to wedge the Coalition on the cost-of-living.

Mr Butler said the incentive, which is paid to doctors who bulk bill children under the age of 16, pensioners and concession card holders, was a “game changer”.

Tasmania had the biggest increase with the number of GP visits bulk billed over November and December last year increasing 5.7 per cent from 66.3 per cent to 72 per cent.

The data showed SA (up 3.8 per cent to 74.5 per cent), WA (up 2.4 per cent to 70.8 per cent) and Queensland (up 2.2 per cent to 75.8 per cent) all increased higher than the national average.

The rate increased the least in the NT (up 2.1 per cent to 73.6 per cent), ACT (up 1.9 per cent to 53.4 per cent) and Victoria (up 1.5 per cent to 78.4 per cent).

Despite bulk-billing appointments only lifting 1.7 per cent, NSW remains the gold standard – with 82.3 per cent of visits billed directly to Medicare across December.

Mr Butler said regional Australians benefited the most from the incentive, which 202,000 visits free in the final two months of the year.

“The Albanese government committed to making it easier for people to see a bulk billing doctor – and the first two months of data show that is exactly what is happening right around the country, particularly in rural and regional areas,” he said.

Bulk billing refers to when GPs bill Medicare instead of the patient so there are no out-of-pocket costs for a visit.

But whether the incentive is encouraging GPs to bulk bill more Australians outside of the 11 million eligible will become clearer in the coming weeks.

Data to be released next month by the Health Department will give a better picture on the average cost of gap fees paid after a GP visit.

A Productivity Report released on Thursday showed nearly 30 per cent of Australians waited “longer than they felt was acceptable” to get an appointment in the 2022-23 financial year.

About 46 per cent of people waited more than 24 hours for an appointment, up from 39.1 per cent the year earlier.

In a speech to celebrate Medicare turning 40, Mr Butler will acknowledge that by 2022 it had become “harder” and “more expensive” to see a doctor.

Mr Butler will also seek to discredit Mr Dutton’s attack on the government’s handling of the cost-of-living crisis by drawing a line to the Liberal leader’s record as Health Minister in 2013.

“He looked at the record high bulk billing rate that he had inherited from Labor and famously lamented that there were – in his words – ‘too many free Medicare services’,” the Health Minister will say.

“So Peter Dutton began a program of cuts and neglect to deal with that, trying to do away with bulk billing altogether, by introducing a tax on every visit of every person to a GP.

“Is it any wonder, really, that Australia’s doctors voted Peter Dutton the worst Health Minister in the Medicare era?”

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