From next month, expect to receive a higher bill each time you visit your local GP.
The Federal Government’s freeze on the indexation of Medicare rebates for GP services is expected to generate approximately $1.3 billion in savings over the next four years that would otherwise have been directed to GPs by 2018.
In preparing to launch an extensive Medicare review after ruling out a Medicare co-payment, The Federal Health Minister, The Hon. Sussan Ley MP, was reported by The Sydney Morning Herald on April 22, 2015 to have said, “Basically, there’s wide agreement the Medicare system in its current form, is sluggish, bloated and at high risk of long-term chronic problems, and continuing to patch it up with band-aids won’t fix it.
“Doctors and patients alike have raised various issues, from over-testing and outdated or unproven treatments, to unnecessary referrals, duplications, inefficiencies and systematic waste.”
Given Medicare spending is predicted to grow faster than all other forms of government health spending in the near future, Ms Ley contends overhauling the Medicare system will deliver patient-centred care, citing “we need to make sure each dollar delivers the best health outcomes for patients possible.”
Approximately 82 per cent of Australian GP consults are bulk-billed, whereby no payment is made for the service by the patient, regardless of whether or not they have a concession card. Those patients who do pay a private fee for their GP visit (generally in more affluent suburbs) will be left a median $30 out-of-pocket.
GPs have warned the ongoing freeze on Medicare fees may attract an additional $8.43 co-payment for non-concession patients by 2018, which is all the more reason to ask your GP whether they bulk bill and will continue to do so from July.
So if you’re on the hunt for a new GP, there are certain items you need to take into account, including gender, age, availability, qualifications and specialisation, other service provision and of course, billing.
Associate Professor Helena Britt from The University of Sydney’s Family Medicine Research Centre was reported by The Age on June 16, 2015 to have said age and gender are important considerations in GP selection.
“Female GPs are more likely to conduct longer consultations and ask about psycho-social issues, and some male GPs avoid offering procedures such as pap smears for women altogether.”
Furthermore, older GPs are known to rely more on clinical experience and patient examinations, while younger GPs order more tests to verify their suspicions.
Importantly, you need to be able to establish a connection with your doctor and to be able to engage in open, honest dialogue.
Availability is also critical. On what basis does your GP work, and can you afford to wait? Large corporate clinics tend to operate after-hours and cater to walk-ins, but may involve longer waiting times. On the flip side, small, family-oriented GP practices are open during business hours and offer a more personalised service.
It’s also important to consider a GP’s area of specialisation in order to best meet your healthcare needs. For instance, does your GP specialise in women’s, men’s or sexual health, paediatrics, obstetrics, dermatology, travel medicine, addictions, complementary medicine, or other therapeutic areas?
Furthermore, what other services does your GP offer (e.g. pathology, diagnostic imaging) and are they conveniently located (i.e. in-house, next door, down the road)? In addition, does your GP practice house allied health professionals, such as physiotherapists, psychologists, dieticians and nutritionists?
Perhaps a locum doctor service (such as the Home Doctor Service and Australian Locum Medical Service) is more suited to your healthcare needs? These bulk-billed services operate from 4pm to 8am, seven days a week, with an average waiting time of up to three hours, and cater for sickness that does not warrant hospital attention.
So remember to think twice when selecting your GP.