It’s a well-known Canberra complaint: finding a bulk-billing family GP is just about impossible.
For new arrivals in town, accustomed to seeing a sign about bulk billing in the window of their local GP practice in Sydney or Melbourne, it’s an irritating adjustment to make.
Dale Rheynolds is a mother of three, who moved to Canberra from Sydney a few years ago.
Paying to visit a GP, particularly with her kids, was a completely new experience.
“We have never paid to see a doctor in our whole lives,” she said.
“There was one on almost every corner.
“When we were in Parramatta, there was one maybe two blocks from our house. And everywhere else, we’ve always been able to find somewhere.”
It wasn’t an easy adjustment to make – primarily, it’s a regular expense she simply wasn’t used to accounting for.
“My weekly grocery bills and household bills were always calculated without this sort of cost,” she said.
“Now we’ve got all this extra cost, because of the doctors.”
Dale said she now avoids going to the doctor unless it’s “absolutely required”.
She asked Curious Canberra to find out what’s so unusual about medicine in the ACT.
The numbers don’t lie.
Dale’s complaints aren’t new in Canberra and Medicare figures help explain why.
According to data from the Federal Department of Health, 83.7 per cent of GP visits across Australia in the 2015-16 financial year were bulk-billed.
In the ACT, 55.6 per cent were bulk-billed.
It is by far the lowest rate of bulk-billing nationwide, with Tasmania the next-lowest at 75.1 per cent.
However that figure has been climbing in recent years – in 2003-04 it was 36 per cent.
Ongoing shortage of Canberra doctors.
Dr Suzanne Davey is a GP and part-owner of the Kambah Village Medical Practice.
She puts the disparity between Canberra and the rest of the nation partly down to an ongoing shortage of GPs in the ACT and an oversupply in the major cities.
“Because there’s an oversupply of doctors, they bulk-bill, that’s the way they attract clients,” she said.
“I think it’s probably as simple as that.”
But Dr Davey makes clear that while GPs like herself do not advertise their bulk-billing services, they do bulk-bill many of their patients at their discretion.