GPs not at risk of being named and shamed if they don’t bulk bill, Health Minister says

Australians have been told they should just “ring around” to find a bulk billing GP in their area amid concerns the government’s incentive boost hasn’t improved access.

But Health Minister Mark Butler rejected suggestions that GPs unwilling to send the bill directly to Medicare for vulnerable patients should be named and shamed.

“We want patients to know, if one practice in their area has changed their behaviour around bulk billing and another hasn’t, it’s entirely your right to vote with your feet,” he told reporters in Canberra.

“People can ring around and ask ‘are you bulk billing a consultant for my kid who’s 14? Are you bulk billing me, I’m a concession card holder?’

“We want an active community discussion about this.”

The government last year tripled the incentives paid to doctors who bulk bill children under the age of 16, pensioners and concession card holders.

It was estimated the change would benefit around 11 million people.

Mr Butler said anecdotally there had been a “significant return” to bulk billing when asked if the data reflected the uptick following the increase, he conceded it had yet to be fully pulled together.

“We’ll have more to say about it in the coming days”.

Patients who are bulk-billed do not pay anything for their consultation.

The number of Australians who delayed seeing a GP due to rising costs increased over the last financial year to almost 1.2 million.

A recent survey from online healthcare directory Cleanbill found fewer than one in four clinics will bulk bill every patient.

Meanwhile, patients are now paying $41.69 on average in out-of-pocket costs.

Mr Butler acknowledged it was his job to try and make it “attractive as possible” for GPs to bulk bill all of their patients – but particularly those who are more vulnerable.

But when asked what he would consider an acceptable gap fee – the difference between the Medicare rebate and what is charged to a patient – he said his focus was on bulk billing.

“That is where the vast bulk of the investment we put into general practice into last year’s budget went,” Mr Butler said.

“The more that we can incentivise and reward GPs for bulk billing those concession card holders, pensioners and kids, the less pressure there is to impose gap fees on the rest of their patients as well.”

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