5 February 2024

Illawarra patients save almost $500k on medical fees as more GP visits bulk-billed

| Keeli Royle
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three people in a medical clinic

Illawarra MPs Alison Byrnes and Stephen Jones visit King Street Medical to mark improvements in bulk-billing figures. Photo: Keeli Royle.

Bulk-billing reforms have saved patients in the Illawarra and Southern Highlands almost half a million dollars in recent months with more able to access care for less through their local GP, but without a ”silver bullet” the Federal Government admits it will still take time to repair the damage done to Medicare over the past decade.

Whitlam MP and Assistant Treasurer Stephen Jones joined Cunningham MP Alison Byrnes to tour one of the only mixed bulk-billing practices remaining in the area and see how the Warrawong clinic managed to grow its services while also improving accessibility to health care.

“King Street Medical Centre has also done a wonderful job with merging in with this community,” Ms Byrnes said.

“It is one of the lower-socioeconomic areas in my electorate and just the effort that they’ve gone to to make sure that it’s a welcoming and really nice place to visit makes a really important difference to many patients.”

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The number of bulk-billing clinics has slowly dwindled across the country as the cost of running the service outweighed the Medicare rebates.

But there have been some early signs of relief in the healthcare sector since the incentive was tripled last November, with an increase of 4.5 per cent in bulk-billing rates or 12,700 additional trips to the GP across the Illawarra and Southern Highlands, saving an estimated $480,000 in gap fees.

Making GP visits more affordable would likely flow to improvements across the region’s health system, which is notorious for long ED wait times and a lack of efficient access to affordable services.

“Your local GP should be the front door to the health system, not the emergency ward,” Mr Jones, who is also Minister for Financial Services, said. “And if you’re getting issues dealt with by your GP, more likely than not you don’t have to go to a hospital.

“It’s better for the patient, it’s better for costs in the health system, it’s better for society.”

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Access to health care and the cost of living are set to be priorities as Parliament returns, and Mr Jones said the government was chipping away at several areas to help people manage financially.

“We’re not saying that any of the things we’ve done have been a silver bullet, but if you put together tax cuts, bulk-billing reform, cheaper medicine, childcare investments, fee-free TAFE, energy – we’re doing what we can to help people as they struggle with the cost of living,” he said.

“Wages are on the move for the first time in a decade, so there’s more money in people’s wallets. That’s a good thing. Inflation is starting to ease.

”It’s too early to crack the champagne cork, but we expect over the course of this year that we should see inflation coming back down to normal.”

And Mr Jones said more measures were planned, particularly when it came to fixing the important social reform that was Medicare.

“It takes a lot of time to repair the damage that has been done over the past decade,” he said.

The new tax cuts will come into effect on 1 July.

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