GPs are warning a marginal pay rise could further accelerate the loss of doctors from rural and regional Australia.
- GPs will receive 65 cents more for every standard patient consultation
- The Medicare rebate increased from $39.10 to $39.75, just 1.6 percent
- Doctors warn the marginal increase risks the viability of general practice
This month, the Medicare rebate for a standard consultation increased from $39.10 to $39.75.
It meant GPs would receive an extra 65 cents for every bulkbilled 20-minute appointment.
“GPs and doctors in general are used to be insulted by the indexation of Medicare,” Dr Aniello Iannuzzi, who practiced in Coonabarabran in western NSW, said.
The increase of 1.6 per cent was well below the inflation rate of 5.1 per cent.
The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) said GPs had experienced soaring rent, mortgage, building and medical insurance, wages and supplies costs in recent years.
“We welcome the increase but it’s nowhere near the margin that’s actually going to help us see a change in the GP workforce,” said RACGP rural chairman Dr Michael Clements.
He said if the Medicare rebate had kept in line with inflation since it was introduced, the fee would be closer to $80.
GP funding will reduce pressure on hospitals
The RACGP said the rebate was creating a false economy.
It costs the health system $39.75 for people to see a GP, compared with an estimated $500 when they present to a hospital emergency department if they couldn’t get a doctors’ appointment.
In a statement, Federal Health Minister Mark Butler acknowledged the previous government’s six-year freeze on Medicare rebates.
“Our doctors deserve more than our thanks,” Mr Butler said.
“The Albanian government is committed to strengthening Medicare and making it easier for Australians to see a GP.
“Our commitment to strengthening Medicare includes around $1 billion in additional investments to boost primary care.”
Patients could go without care
To supplement their income, some GPs charge patients a gap fee but not all people were able to pay.
“I wouldn’t be able to afford it being on a pension,” said Coonabarabran resident Crystal Harper.
“I wouldn’t be able to keep up with my health treatments.”
Ms Harper said people could delay or avoid medical treatment if doctors had to increase fees to compensate for the insufficient Medicare rebate.
“If you’ve got multiple health issues, it can turn people off from going and getting their health checked, even if it’s something that might be minor that could turn into something that’s quite serious,” she said.
‘Little’ incentive to stay in profession
The Medicare rebates were also blamed for the challenges in recruiting and retaining GPs.
Fewer medical students now chose general practice, with just 15 per cent of graduates picking the specialisation.
Dr Clements agreed and warned that there was little incentive to stay in the profession.
“These kind of really, really small increases in Medicare really won’t do anything to help a practice stay open in a rural area and certainly there’s no incentive right now to open a new practice in a rural area,” he said.