Some GPs are charging patients $120 for a standard consultation.
Some GPs are charging patients $120 for a standard consultation.

Why you’re paying more to see a doctor

EXCLUSIVE: Some GPs are charging patients $120 for a standard consultation as the costs to see a doctor soar.

And one in three patients around the nation are paying on average over $36 out of their own pocket to see a doctor, with GPs' fees rising well in excess of inflation.

Medicare rebates rose by 55 cents in July, from $37 to $37.55, the first increase in four years, but News Corp can reveal it did little to help patients because the AMA recommended doctors raise their fees by $2 on November 1 to $81.

The out of pocket charges faced by patients whose doctors don't bulk bill have soared by 21 per cent since July 2014 when the government froze Medicare rebates.

The spiralling costs have driven up the number of people at hospital emergency departments and led 660,000 people to skip seeing a GP.

 

Rising GP costs linked to increase in people using hospital emergency departments. Picture Getty Images.
Rising GP costs linked to increase in people using hospital emergency departments. Picture Getty Images.

 

A new analysis of GP charges by website Mind the Gap has found at least six inner city Sydney clinics slugging patients more than $100 for a consultation and one GP is charging $120.

Rising GP costs have been linked to  the increase in people using hospital emergency departments. Picture Getty Images.
Rising GP costs have been linked to the increase in people using hospital emergency departments. Picture Getty Images.

That is 50 per cent more than the $81 charge the AMA recommends.

"The indexation of Medicare was a step in the right direction. However, the increase in average private fees above the indexation indicates that it wasn't adequate to cover rising practice costs for GPs which were then passed on to patients," said Mind the Gap founder James Gillespie.

Health Minister Greg Hunt is upbeat that the latest Medicare data shows the number of GP services that are bulk billed at no charge to the patient has risen to record levels of 84.7 per cent.

However, the number of services that are bulk-billed is not the same as the number of patients that are bulk billed.

Australian Medical Association president Dr Tony Bartone has defended the rise. Picture: Kym Smith
Australian Medical Association president Dr Tony Bartone has defended the rise. Picture: Kym Smith

Health department data shows one in three patients are not bulk billed by their GP and the latest Medicare data shows these patients are paying on average over $36 out of their own pocket to see a doctor after they receive their Medicare rebate.

The soaring out of pocket costs are due in part to the government's four year freeze on Medicare rebates and are also due to above inflation fee rises by doctors.

The AMA's recommended 2.5 per cent fee rise is nearly fifty per cent higher than the 1.9 per cent inflation rate.

Australian Medical Association president Dr Tony Bartone defended the rise and said health funds had been granted a premium rise of 3.25 per cent and the Wage Price Index for Australia from September 2017 to September 2018 was 2.2 per cent.

Doctors faced rising rental and wage costs that had to be covered by their fees if their small businesses were to survive, he said.

Since July 2014 when the government froze Medicare rebates to save over $3 billion the average the out of pocket charges faced by patients whose doctors don't bulk bill have soared by $6.20 or 21 per cent.

Opposition health spokeswoman Catherine King said the soaring costs have driven up the number of people at hospital emergency departments and led 660,000 people to skip seeing a doctor.

The freeze in the Medicare rebate has also seen some bulk billing GPs increase the number of services they provide to maintain their income.

Some doctors are now likely to treat just one health problem per consultation.

Australian Institute of Health and Welfare data shows the number of GP services per patient has risen from 5.4 in 2010-11 to 6.1 in 2016-17.

"When you've got a small business and the government freezes your rebate it does put a squeeze on your margins and for some people that is a solution, it is not a common solution but we are aware of people doing it," Dr Bartone said.



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