You may have noticed GPs in Wyndham shifting away from the Medicare scheme that pays doctors known as Bulk Billing towards direct charges for their services in recent months. Its not something specific to Wyndham though, it is happening all over the country and is causing concern for patients everywhere, but why are Wyndham doctors and others taking this action and how will it affect you?
To understand why it is happening, we have to look at how bulk billing works. Every GP practice in Wyndham is a business in its own right, and obviously, they have to make money so your doctor can get a wage. However, GPs earn considerably less than specialists in other areas of medicine, often less than half or even a third of what others are earning annually.
The problem is that bulk billing doesn’t cover the full costs of what they do, so they must have some element of direct charging to make up the difference, or else the practice won’t cover its running costs and become unsustainable. The reason this is seeing a more rapid shift away from bulk billing in recent times is due to the way the amounts paid are calculated.
While there are increases every year in bulk billing rates, these are calculated in accordance with the government’s Wage Price Index, which presents some problems. The Australian Medical Association has often pointed out that this index doesn’t adequately represent rising costs within the health sector itself for many years, including during a freeze in that compensation between 2013 and 2018.
As we have seen since the pandemic first hit, costs for almost everything has risen dramatically, and this is just as true for healthcare, so we are now in a perfect storm where prices are rising rapidly for Wyndham doctors, while the system in place to reimburse them is becoming ever more inadequate. It is no surprise then, that doctors in Wyndham are taking action and moving more towards direct charging than the bulk billing that is failing to keep up with their costs.
To give an example, current AMA recommendations for a standard consultation is $86, while bulk billing provides $39.10. For patients, that means increased out of pocket costs, and with everything else increasing in value too, that can be a problem. However, as we see, while the situation is not one any of us like, Wyndham doctors are being put in an almost impossible position and need to take action to ensure we still have GP practices to visit.