GPs join forces to ease patients’ fears, explain Medicare rebate following rising cost of appointments

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It appeared on page four of a newspaper in regional New South Wales; an open letter from doctors and staff to the community of Bathurst, seeking to explain their position and why they may have to consider raising fees for some patients.

“Perhaps you have been surprised by an increased out-of-pocket cost to your GP,” the letter stated.

“As owners of private General Practices in Bathurst, we would like to collectively clarify some of the issues.”

The letter has been jointly released by the city’s Busby, Russell Street, Loxley House and George Street medical practices.

It explains how the current Medicare rebate barely covers expenses and how doctors have spent years trying to absorb rising costs.

“I think, overall, most people understand and most people accept it,” said Marcus Heywood, the spokesperson of the practices.

“Part of the reason for the letter is explaining the need for increasing costs.

“Part of it is trying to reassure that it’s still important to us that patients have affordable care.”

On July 1, the Medicare rebate for a standard 20-minute consultation rose by 65 cents to $39.75.

This goes towards the running costs of the surgery, rent, medical supplies, insurance as well as staff salaries, including the GPs.

“Over a 10-year period it’s just gotten to the point where that basic Medicare rebate isn’t enough to cover costs,” Dr Heywood said.

“Most people would understand [that] under $40 for 20 minutes of [a] GP’s time, plus all background costs, it’s just no longer sufficient.”

Rising anger over out-of-pocket patients

The letter goes on to acknowledge that some patients have expressed anger and frustration if a doctor does not bulk-bill and charges patients a gap fee.

“Our GPs and practice teams see patients every day who are angry about the cost of their GP visit,” the letter reads.

“We understand this frustration.

“The best thing we can do to safeguard affordable healthcare is to direct that heat towards the government to increase your Medicare rebate.”

Dr Heywood said the practices were doing their best to provide bulk-billing to as many patients as possible, including the most vulnerable.

“Some practitioners at this stage are thinking of, or looking to, moving away from the routine bulk-billing of all pension card holders,” he said.

“Having said that, the majority, I believe, are continuing to bulk-bill pension card holders.

“I would hope that all truly vulnerable patients would continue to be bulk-billed.”

(Original ABC Article)