Here's why your trip to the local GP is about to get a whole lot more expensive.

Doctors say Federal Government cuts to Medicare will put an end to bulk billing and put pressure on hospital emergency departments.

From Monday changes to the Medicare rebate will see people pay $20 more for some visits to the doctor.

Cuts to medicare are set to increase costs for patients. Image via ABC.

The rebate on a GP visit of less than 10 minutes will be cut from $37.05 to $16.95.

GPs say they will not be able to absorb this shortfall and will have to pass it onto patients.

Dr Carl Grace runs two large bulk billing practices in regional Victoria.

He said he would have no choice but to start charging patients a fee, a move which he said would increase the pressure on overcrowded hospital emergency departments.

Cuts will have a flow on effect, increasing pressure on our already over crowded emergency services.

GPs are angrier about this proposal than they were back in May with the original budget proposal; they feel insulted.

Dr Brian Owler, AMA president,
“My practices in Geelong and Ballarat are probably bigger than most practices out in the suburbs,” he said.

“[They are] incredibly expensive to run because we’re right in the middle of the city opposite the hospital.

“And to reduce me from $37 to $16.95 … of course I’ll go broke.

“I wouldn’t be able to pay for the surgery, I’d have to stop bulk billing. It will mean the end of bulk billing.”

Dr Grace’s practices take a lot of referrals from the emergency departments (EMDs) at Geelong Hospital and Ballarat Hospital.

“They send down minor problems and we see them,” he said.

“That will stop, because if we’re charging, they will stay in EMD, so the EMD departments that are overcrowded at the moment, they will not be able to cope.”

Geelong and Ballarat’s Hospitals will be forced to treat minor problems as GP’s will be unable to bulk-bill.

Hobart GP Graeme Alexander is warning his patients about the impending change with posters displayed throughout his medical centre.


“They’ve managed to bring it in at a time when people are often focused on other things,” Dr Alexander said.

“But this will have a massive impact. What we don’t understand is why they’re doing it.”

Doctors’ groups ‘angry’ and worried

The Australian Medical Association is outraged with proposed changes.

Australian Medical Association (AMA) president Dr Brian Owler is outraged.

“GPs are angrier about this proposal than they were back in May with the original budget proposal; they feel insulted,” he said.

The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) is also worried about the impact.

College vice-president Dr Morton Rawlin said patients would feel the cost.

“It’s likely that some doctors will decide that they can no longer continue to bulk bill and as a result they will have to pass on those costs to the patient,” he said.

The change can be overturned by the Senate when Parliament resumes next month, and the AMA will ask the Senate to move a disallowance motion to block the rebate cut.

Labor is still considering its position but wants doctors to spend more time with patients.

Greens senator Richard Di Natale said the rebate change would hurt the sick and vulnerable.

“If we are trying to improve the quality of health care, you don’t do it by reducing the amount doctors get, forcing them to put those charges on ordinary people,” he said.

On the crossbench the views are mixed.

Tasmanian Senator Jacqui Lambie has declared she will vote to strike down the cut to the rebate for short consultations.

“It’s imposing another tax but what I believe it’s doing is using the GPs as a piece of meat in the sandwich,” Senator Lambie said.

“This is not the answer whatsoever – it doesn’t matter what colour lipstick you continually change to put on the pig, it’s still a pig.”

The Liberal Democratic Party and Family First senators support the Government.

On the other side, the Palmer United Party senators and independents John Madigan and Nick Xenophon are worried about the changes.

Senator Xenophon says the policy seems to be ad hoc.

“This is no way to run the country, when the Government seems to be at war with GPs, treating them as part of the problem when they should be, and can be, part of the solution,” he said.

Newly appointed Health Minister Sussan Ley is currently on leave.

Her spokesman said she would continue to consult with doctors and the community.

The change was designed to ensure patients were able to spend more time with their doctor in order to deliver better health outcomes, the spokesman said.

This article appears on The ABC, and has been republished here with full permission.