Doctors and patients feel the pinch of Medicare rebate freeze, drop in bulk billing clinics

Lisa Chesters
Lisa Chesters

The cost of a doctor’s visit is leaving two in five residents to delay seeking medical attention, an inquiry by Bendigo’s federal MP has found.  

Lisa Chesters initiated an investigation into the central Victorians’ experience of the healthcare system after the government labelled as a scare tactic her party’s election claim Medicare was under threat.

The MP held eight hearings across her electorate, as well as surveying voters online.  

Nearly all the participants believed the cost of health care had risen in the last year.

The report recommends the government raise the Medicare rebate, which is currently earmarked to remain frozen until 2020. 

Labor first introduced the freeze in 2013, a move Ms Chesters now said was a mistake. 

The cap left general practitioners no choice but to raise the price of an appointment, Ms Chesters said, meaning some patients did not have enough money in their bank accounts to pay the pre-rebate consultation fee. 

The report quotes one doctor as saying: “I have put every bit of cash I have into trying to support a community.

“If I was sick tomorrow, I would be in financial trouble.”   

Without raising their prices, clinics were at risk of collapse, she said, hoping the rebate could increase to the value it would have reached had the freeze not occurred.    

The MP was also concerned by how few medical clinics bulk billed their clients; of 23 surveyed practices, just 11 offered bulk billing for people with concession cards.

Only four bulk billed non-concession patients.

“People rely on bulk billing to get care they need,” Ms Chester said.