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$160 for 2 minutes: Patient fumes over Australia's major Medicare problem as millions put off vital care

Millions of Australians are putting off medical treatment as the cost is too high

An Australian has expressed their frustration after being charged $160 for a two-minute visit to a GP. There's been a slight increase in the rate of GPs bulk-billing (2.1 per cent) since the federal government rolled out a $3.5 billion incentive program in November, but there are still many patients who have to foot the bill for appointments.

One Aussie was told they'd have to book an appointment to get a prescription refill for their psoriasis as it couldn't be done over the phone. They had hoped seeing a GP in person would at least mean their skin condition would be assessed, but that was not the case.

"I didn’t even sit down, [the GP] didn’t get out of her chair and there wasn’t even the sound of a printer to make it seem like something had actually happened," they said.

Patient visiting a GP
A person recently was charged $160 for a two-minute consultation with a GP. (Source: Getty)

Have you been stung by a recent GP visit? Email stew.perrie@yahooinc.com

"She didn't even ask to see my psoriasis, she didn't ask anything other than, 'Did you get the text'. She had my notes on screen when I walked in, she clicked on the medication I wanted and I got a text, there were no notes, no consult, no discussion, no reason for me to be there."

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When they went back to reception, they were told the very brief appointment would set them back $160.

The person said it took them 45 minutes to get to the practice and to be charged that amount of money for such a short consultation was a slap in the face.

There were two older people also at the GP practice who were similarly rattled when they were told their appointments were going to cost $200 each.

Seeing a non-bulk billing GP can be a costly exercise, especially if you require regular appointments. Sadly, there are many people who simply can't afford it.

Recent data from Finder revealed how one in five (20 per cent) Australians – equivalent to over 4 million people – have avoided going to the doctor because they couldn't afford the appointment, while 16 per cent didn't attend because it seemed expensive.

A Productivity Commission report also found the number of people delaying or not attending appointments because of price has doubled from 3.5 to 7 per cent in 12 months.

Australia's peak medical body said the government needed to continue putting money towards GP bulk billing to ensure Aussies aren't continually hit with charges like this.

While the Australian Medical Association (AMA) was pleased to see bulk-billing rates increase in the wake of the incentive program, it wants to know whether it will have longevity.

"This is only one part of the reforms needed for a sustainable general practice sector," AMA vice-president Danielle McMullen told AAP.

"The numbers are a step in the right direction, but we must keep the pressure on to invest in general practice and our nation's health."

However, the government has shot down hopes of more incentives in the future.

"[The incentives] are working to arrest, first of all, the freefall in bulk-billing that we inherited when we came to government," Health minister Mark Butler said to the ABC. "They're providing much better renumeration to GPs who are bulk-billing ... and we are seeing a pleasing rebound."

Tasmania recorded the highest increase in bulk-billing since the new incentives came into effect in November, up five per cent, while the ACT recorded the lowest, up 1.3 per cent.

NSW has the highest bulk-billing rate and is the only state to achieve more than 80 per cent, while the ACT has the lowest at just more than 50 per cent.

The bulk-billing rate in other states and the Northern Territory is in the 70s.

The person who was only seen for two minutes complained that a consultation over the phone could have been much easier for both the doctor and them.

But a paper released last year found there have been startling safety incidents in the UK when medical checks are done over the phone or via a telehealth session.

Researchers combed through nearly 100 reports between 2020 to 2023 and discovered several cases where patients had been given the wrong diagnosis and subsequently died.

“I think a lot of the challenge we’ve had about remote consultations is we haven’t known how to apply them well,” said Dr Rebecca Payne, the first author of the study.

“We’ve had to employ them indiscriminately, particularly in the early stages of pandemic, because we had no safe way to provide care to patients without it. But now we’re starting to get that detail on where and when they’re helpful and when they aren’t.”

The study urged doctors to make sure the patient knows what the next steps are in their treatment plan and for patients to make it clear what their symptoms are and if their health is deteriorating

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