Bulk-billing rates increase after Albanese government incentives



Other data, such as the average gap fee and socio-economic breakdowns of bulk-billing rates, was not published by the government and will be released with the quarterly tranche of Medicare data in late February.

That information will indicate whether Health Minister Mark Butler’s changes have succeeded in bringing down GP costs for non-concession patients, whom he suggested were being charged higher gap fees to subsidise the bulk-billed GP visits of more vulnerable people.

The incentives now give GPs a bonus of $20.65 in the city and $39.65 in the most rural areas if they bulk-bill children, concession-card holders and pensioners.

How the boosted bulk-billing incentives work

From November, GPs were paid an increased incentive to bulk-bill children, pensioners and concession card holders, based on their location under the “Modified Monash Model” system. This is on top of the Medicare rebate.

  • MMM1 (metropolitan): $6.60 to $20.65
  • MMM2 (eg Launceston, Tas): $10.05 to $31.40
  • MMM3 (eg Cessnock, NSW): $10.65 to $33.35
  • MMM4 (eg Port Augusta, SA): $10.65 to $33.35
  • MMM5 (eg Renmark, SA) : $11.35 to $35.40
  • MMM6 (eg Lightning Ridge, NSW): $11.95 to $37.40
  • MMM7 (eg Thursday Island, Qld): $12.70 to $39.65

Paired with a 4 per cent increase to the Medicare rebate, the changes meant the reimbursement for a 20-minute bulk-billed concession consult in metropolitan areas became $62.05 from November – a 34 per cent increase in doctors’ income. In the most remote parts of Australia, the total benefit became $81.05 – or a 55 per cent boost.

Butler said it was a win for patients, doctors and the health system.

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“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.

In NSW, which has the country’s highest bulk-billing rate, uptake rose by 1.7 percentage points: from 80.6 per cent in October, to 82.3 per cent in December. But it was more pronounced across 17 regional electorates, where the rate rose from 74.7 per cent to 78.5 per cent (up 3.8 percentage points).

The effect was similar in Victoria, where the state’s overall bulk-billing rate rose 1.5 per centage points, from 76.8 per cent to 78.3 per cent.

Victoria’s 10 regional electorates recorded a steeper rise of 4.7 percentage points, from 72.3 per cent to 77 per cent. The electorate of Bendigo saw a particularly sharp increase of 8 percentage points in two months, from 67.3 per cent to 75.3 per cent.

Nationwide, the greatest turnaround was in Tasmania, which has one of the lowest bulk-billing rates. 72 per cent of the state’s GP services were bulk-billed in December, compared to 66.3 per cent just two months earlier (a rise of 5.7 per centage points).

The influence of the policy on city electorates was not discernible from the data provided by the federal government on Wednesday.

Health economist Stephen Duckett said the outcomes were very positive: “The government has taken action, the aim of which was to at least arrest the decline [of bulk-billing] and hopefully reverse it.”

He said the incentives in rural areas were very strong – almost doubling a doctor’s income – which meant GPs could make an economic decision to return to bulk-billing.

“Obviously, not all of them have, but it’s really good sign,” he said.

“On the other hand, the incentives in metropolitan areas are much lower. This means there are many people in metro Australia still facing significant out of pockets and not being able to see a doctor when they need one.”

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