GPs Advised to Raise Consultation Fees

Animation of a GP wearing glasses with a stethoscope around his neck

New guidelines by the Australian Medical Association (AMA), Australia’s peak medical body, recommend a $2 increase in GP fees for a level B consult, from $76 to $78, to reflect the higher costs of providing care.

The argument for the suggested rise is due to an increase in doctors seeing patients with complex and chronic health conditions compounded by increases in rent and staff wages adding to the rising costs of running a practice.

The $2 increase in doctor fees for standard visits under 20 minutes will not be accounted for by the Medicare rebate which was frozen by the Federal Government at $37.05 and is expected to remain the same until 2020.

The AMA believes patients will continue to pay more out of pocket each year as a result of GP consultation fee increases driven by the Medicare freeze.

A freeze in the Medicare indexation to the Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) was introduced by the Labor Government in 2013 and the Coalition opted to extend the freeze claiming this would enable them to put more money into other areas of health.

The AMA believes the freeze is putting pressure on practices which continue to bulk-bill and calls for the government to reinstate the indexation of the Medicare rebate to inflation.

The AMA further believes if the Medicare freeze remains in place it will put pressure on practices to provide quality medical care and patients may be deterred from visiting the doctor if they have to pay more in doctor fees.

Fears that the freeze would result in a drop in bulk-billing rates have so far not been borne out by Medicare data which shows that 81.5 per cent of all GP consultations last year were bulk-billed.

The government states that the bulk-billing rate has never been higher and that if doctors elect to charge higher GP consultation fees, the Medicare freeze is not to blame. The government views GPs as small business and argue that doctors running small businesses are better off now due to small business tax cuts.

GPs have the ability to set their doctor fees according to their business model and patient base, however if GPs choose to adopt the AMA’s recommendation it will test the government’s assurance that patients won’t pay more to see doctors as a result of the Medicare freeze.

If doctors choose to increase their GP consultation fees as per the AMA’s advice, patients will be $41 out of pocket from November this year, and concerns are that thousands of Australians will be affected by the rise in GP fees.