Bulk billing is ‘unsustainable’ in a cost of living crisis

Doctors have warned that Australia’s bulk billing system is unsustainable, with overworked doctors being forced to bill patients for appointments amid rising demand.

GPs nationwide have informed patients of their intention to move away from bulk patient billing, which has become unsustainable in the face of rising costs and doctor shortages.

The gap between GP fees and Medicare reimbursement paid to practices has more than tripled in the past 10 years, leaving many GPs with no choice but to charge fees.

As the cost of living crisis continues to add pressure on everyday families, average out-of-pocket costs for GP services have increased by 50% over the past decade.

Healthcare costs are rising faster than wages, but 85% of Australians see their GP at least once a year, or even more, especially during the pandemic.

The Australian Medical Association (AMA) recommended fee of around $86 and the standard reimbursement of $39.10 for medical consultation by a GP has risen by $13.50 over a decade, to stand at around $47.

With fees rising, GPs have no choice but to speed up appointments, limiting the time spent with each patient to try to do more to increase billing.

The AMA supported moving away from wholesale billing, reducing doctors’ reliance on the government to earn income.

The 2021 Royal Australian College of General Practitioners report shows that one in five GPs are employed in bulk billing clinics, while 64% of GPs said they bulk bill most of their patients.

The president of the Australian Society of General Practice, Chris Irwin, told The Australian that up to 60% of medical practices that currently offer bulk billing are looking to implement fees.

“That’s all we talk about in general medicine,” Dr. Irwin said.

“It’s extremely difficult for GPs because they just want to serve the community and… protect the most vulnerable. But we’re just getting to the point where if something doesn’t change there will literally be no GP in 10 year.

The shortage of doctors in the country is so severe that traveling GPs are being offered up to $3,500 a day to work in parts of the country.

The Australian Taxation Office has revealed that GPs earn considerably less than other healthcare professionals, often earning half the salary of specialists.

Originally published as Bulk billing ‘unsustainable’ in cost of living crisis