Doctor warns failures in outdated Medicare bulk-billing system risk tipping health system over edge

Melbourne GP has warned quality healthcare could soon be reserved for the rich, with poor and vulnerable patients already forced to run the gauntlet of clogged emergency wards.

Mariam Tokhi, a general practitioner at the Utopia Refugee Health Service in Melbourne’s west, said Australia’s failing bulk-billing incentive meant people with complex medical needs were being left with no other choice but to join hospital queues.

Medicare rebates increment of only 1.6 percent and growing inflation having forced some GPs to pass on the additional cost of consultations to their patients.

The average out-of-pocket cost for GP services has risen 60 percent over the past decade.

Dr Tokhi said it meant patients, particularly the elderly and vulnerable, were choosing to defer doctors visits or head to hospitals once their conditions had spiraled.

A file photo of two medicare cards.
Some GPs and experts say the Medicare rebate is not enough to cover an average visit.(ABC News)

She says bulk-billing incentive rebates remains “shamefully low” and increasing these, as well as Medicare rebates for longer consultations, are key to preventing chronic illness and premature death across low socio-economic regions.

Medicare rebates aren’t adequate anymore to cover the cost of seeing a GP,” Dr Tokhi said.

“Especially if you have complex health conditions and need a bit of extra time.

“It means wealthier people might choose quality care and pay a gap fee but the people who need it most — the poor, the chronically ill, the struggling — either get poorer-quality, quick, bulk-billed consults or they go without.”

‘Stuck in another era’

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