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Seven out of 10 GP visits have no out-of-pocket expenses.



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Media Release

Senator the Hon Kay Patterson Minister for Health and Ageing

KP08/03 February 14, 2003

SEVEN OUT OF 10 GP VISITS HAVE NO OUT-OF-POCKET EXPENSES

Seven out of 10 visits by Australians to a GP did not have any out-of-pocket expenses, according to the latest Medicare bulk-billing statistics.

In the December quarter 2002, 69.6 per cent of all visits to a GP were bulk billed. This was a fall of 1.6 percentage points from the previous quarter.

Nearly eight out of 10 visits by older patients to GPs did not have any out-of-pocket expenses.

The figures show that 77.3 per cent of GP visits for patients 65 years and over were bulk billed - provided free of charge.

The Federal Minister for Health and Ageing, Senator Kay Patterson, said it was pleasing that GPs continued to bulk bill older Australians at a high level because many were on fixed incomes and needed to go to the doctor more often.

Senator Patterson said: "Despite the efforts of some to proclaim that bulk billing is dead, the latest figures show that seven out of 10 visits by Australians to their GP do not have an out-of-pocket expense.

"Recent falls have been disappointing, but we cannot direct doctors to bulk bill," she said.

"I thank doctors who are continuing to bulk bill their patients in large numbers - particularly those who take into account their patients' financial circumstances and continue to bulk bill low and fixed-income patients."

Senator Patterson said the Howard Government was fully committed to strengthening Medicare and the retention of bulk billing to ensure affordable access to GP services for Australians.

The Howard Government had provided a range of financial incentives to ensure doctors were adequately remunerated and encouraged to bulk bill.

● Under Labor, the Medicare rebate for longer level D consultations increased by only 5 per cent (to $65.20) in

its last six years. In six years of the Howard Government, the rebate for the level D consultation has increased by 23 per cent (to $80.40).

● In the last six years of the previous government, the Medicare rebate for a standard consultation increased by

only $1.70 or less than 9 per cent. The Howard Government has increased the rebate by $4.20 or 20 per cent.

● The Government has increased spending on Medicare Benefits Scheme by $2 billion - from $6 to $8 billion.

● Government spending on general practice (including Medicare rebates, Practice Incentive Program and

General Practice Immunisation Incentives) has increased by 24 per cent in the past four years.

Senator Patterson said the Federal Government was committed to not only providing affordable access to GPs, but also ensuring the delivery of quality treatment when they visited their GP.

"It is often overlooked that Medicare is supported by an income structure for GPs that does not depend solely on Medicare rebates," she said.

"The Government pays doctors special incentive payments to give them the resources and time to manage patients with diseases such as diabetes, asthma and mental health.

"When these special payments are taken into account, doctors, on average, receive nearly $18,000 a year in additional income over and above their Medicare rebates."

Figures show that doctors are spending more time with their patients and they are being assisted by the Government's injection of $300 million in the 2001 Budget to encourage longer consultations. New rebates for annual health assessments for people aged 75 years and over have also been introduced.

Senator Patterson said the Government did not believe that just increasing GP Medicare rebates was the best way of delivering quality health care to Australians and ensuring doctors were adequately remunerated.

She also rejected claims by Opposition health spokesman Stephen Smith that there had been "explosive increases in GP fees".

Senator Patterson said: "Mr Smith's claims about out-of-pocket expenses are alarmist.

"It is true that the average out-of-pocket cost of GP services that are not bulk billed have risen by $4.46 since the Howard Government came to office.

"However, it is useful to provide a comparison with Labor's record. Under Labor, out-of-pocket expenses rose on average by more than 10 per cent a year. Under the Howard Government, out-of-pocket costs have risen about 6 per cent a year."

For further information contact Randal Markey, Media Adviser, 0417 694 520