Half of Australia’s patients faced out of pocket expenses for non-hospital Medicare services in 2016-17, with a median cost of $142 per patient, according to a new report released by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare today, emphasising the need for urgent investment in preventive healthcare.
Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) President-elect Dr Harry Nespolon has today reaffirmed the RACGP’s position, calling on the Federal Government to increase the funding for the Medicare rebate by at least 18.5%, including on longer GP appointments.
“By providing higher rebates and the opportunity for longer bulk billed visits, patients will be able to spend more time with their GP, allowing for better long term outcomes,” Dr Nespolon said.
“Half of Australian patients are experiencing increasing out of pocket costs, with the highest costs coming from services outside of the general practice setting.
“Patients want to spend more time with their GP, and it has been shown that the more time a patient spends with their GP the better their long-term health will be. More effort must be made to keep patients out of hospitals and away from costly out of pocket expenses.
Dr Nespolon said while 24.6% of out of pocket expenses came from GP visits, much of this could be accounted for by patients who required longer appointments where the Medicare rebate was lacking.
“Although though we welcome the return of indexation, it still does not catch general practice up on the past 5 years, which is why the 18.5% increase is so important.
“The reality is, long and complex consultations are not properly compensated by patients’ Medicare rebate.
“When a GP has the proper amount of time with a patient, we are able to properly treat the whole patient.
“This has a two-fold effect in the statistics, it means that patients who can afford longer consultations must pay an out of pocket expense and those who can’t are at risk of struggling with their long term health.
The RACGP has been working with the Federal Government for years to increase the access and affordability of GPs for patients.
“An extra 10-30 minutes in a GP consult can mean that a condition is identified earlier or health risks like obesity and mental health issues receive proper preventive treatment before a patient ends up with a more serious lifelong condition.
“Not looking after a person’s health can be a costly business, both for governments and patients,” Dr Nespolon said.
The RACGP will continue to advocate for higher Medicare rebates and better funding for longer consultations with the Federal Government, including in its submission to the MBS review calling on at least an 18.5% increase to the Medicare rebate in general practice and a lower Medicare safety net threshold.