Patients face new $20 fee for seeing their GP
The fee change runs the risk of killing off bulk billing, says AMA spokesperson.
Australian patients will be hit by a new $20 fee for seeing their
GP when changes to Medicare, introduced by the Abbott government to
save billions of dollars, begin to take effect from next week.
a little-known "10 minute" rule predicted to blow out GP waiting times
from January 19, Medicare will pay $20.10 less for consultations lasting
six to 10 minutes.
For years, Medicare has paid $37.05 towards
these "Level B" visits made by millions of patients each year requiring a
new prescription or blood pressure check, for example. It will now pay
$16.95, a move doctors warn will "destroy" free universal healthcare.
The Australian Medical Association says the change, estimated to
cut $500 million from Medicare in 2015, will prompt many doctors to stop
bulk-billing shorter consultations because the payment does not meet
"This change alone will kill off a lot of bulk-billing," said Dr
Michael Levick, a spokesman for the AMA's Victorian branch. "This is a
very sly way of cutting the [health] budget."
The change means
people who currently pay to see their GP will receive $20.10 less back
from Medicare for consultations up to 10 minutes, meaning their "out of
pocket" cost or "gap fee" (the difference between what their doctor
charges and what they receive back from Medicare) will increase.
of the AMA's council of general practice Brian Morton said although
bulk-billing GPs (those who charge their patients nothing) could absorb
the pay cut and receive $16.95 for such consultations, they were
unlikely to do so because Medicare payments were already failing to keep
up with the costs of running a practice.
Instead, he said that as
of Monday, many GPs were likely to stop bulk-billing and charge a fee
for short consultations, meaning some patients who currently receive
free care will have to pay.
Dr Morton said it was also possible
that doctors and their patients would stretch consultations out to meet
the 10-minute threshold for a rebate of $37.05 - the payment for
consultations between 10 and 20 minutes. This would mean GPs would see
fewer patients on average a day, making them less accessible to patients
trying to book an appointment.
"It may be that patients and
doctors extend the consultation unnecessarily to get over that 10-minute
threshold and that will impact on access. If you can do an efficient,
good-quality consultation for eight minutes that is relevant to the
patient's circumstances and needs, it doesn't take long before those two
minutes add up to block another patient coming in," he said.
Last financial year, about 35 million GP consultations, or 26 per cent of 134 million billed to Medicare, were under 10 minutes.
the same year, the Australian Bureau of Statistics said one in five
Australians who saw a GP said they waited longer than they felt was
acceptable to get an appointment. One in 20 who needed to see a GP said
they delayed it or did not go because of cost.
The change comes
alongside a $5 cut to all Medicare rebates for GP consultations that
will apply to non-concessional patients from July 1. This means people
without a concession who see a GP for less than 10 minutes from July,
will receive a rebate of $11.95.
Indexation of the Medicare rebate
has also been frozen until 2018, infuriating doctors who are planning
rallies to protest in all major Australian cities on February 8. They
are hoping to pressure the Senate into disallowing the changes, some of
which have been introduced through regulation.
A spokesman for
Health Minister Sussan Ley said the changes to consultations under 10
minutes were designed to better reflect the time a doctor spends with
their patient and to encourage longer GP consultations with patients for
better health outcomes.
"Under the current rules, a GP can access
Medicare rebates for up to 20 minutes, even if their patient is in and
out the door in six minutes," the spokesman said.
While about 83
per cent of all GP consultations were bulk-billed in 2013-14, Dr Levick,
a Brunswick GP on the board of AMA Victoria, said the federal
government's cuts to Medicare were making bulk-billing unviable.
said the changes meant his clinic would introduce a new fee schedule in
February, with bulk-billing reserved for exceptional cases. Under his
new fees, people will pay $30 for zero to six minutes and $55 forsix to
10 minutes, meaning their out of pocket cost after a rebate of $16.95
will be $13.05 and $38.05 respectively.
Dr Levick said short
consultations were often used to review people with a previously serious
illness such as pneumonia or for those with chronic illnesses. He said
charging these patients could mean they forego the visits and end up in a
hospital emergency department instead.