Posted on: 10 May 2023

The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) made it clear that they needed a solution to the decline in bulk-billing rates, and the Federal Government listened. As reported in the recent budget papers, the government is increasing bulk-billing incentives by three times the current amount, which will come at a cost of $3.5 billion over the forward estimates.

The good news is that this will benefit over 11 million Australians, with flow-on benefits for everyone, according to Federal health minister Mark Butler. Telehealth and videoconference consultations, including those for children, pensioners, and Commonwealth concession cardholders, will be covered, as will home visits and consultations in residential aged care facilities. These incentives will begin from November 1st.

If you are a GP in a metropolitan area and bulk-bill an eligible patient for a standard consultation, you will now receive an increased incentive of $20.65 instead of $6.85. The bulk billing incentive for a standard consultation in very remote areas will increase to $39.65, instead of $13.15. However, these incentives will only apply to face-to-face consultations that last for more than six minutes or telehealth GP services that are between 6 and 20 minutes in length.

The headlines about bulk-billing incentives may overshadow the news about voluntary patient enrolment or the system known as MyMedicare, but it’s worth noting that it’s voluntary and open to anyone, with patients able to register with their preferred practice, GP, and care team. Providers will receive incentive payments to deliver wraparound, tailored care to keep patients with complex, chronic diseases out of hospitals, worth $98.9 million over four years.

According to the budget papers, this will help the more than 13,000 patients with complex, chronic conditions who visit hospitals 10 or more times each year because they aren’t getting the comprehensive, team-based care they need. For those who sign up, they will be able to claim MBS rebates for longer telehealth general practice consultations, longer than a Level B.

Additionally, there is $359 million allocated for Medicare Urgent Care Clinics. Eight new clinics will be fully resourced and operating this year, open for longer hours, and with no out-of-pocket cost for patients. There is also $144 million for after-hours primary care, channelled through the Primary Health Networks After Hours Program as well as Healthdirect, improving access to services for people affected by homelessness and culturally and linguistically diverse Australians.

Patients who require consultations longer than 60 minutes will receive a larger Medicare rebate, which will also cover mental health consultations. The total cost of the change is around $100 million. To promote consistency in GP billing practices, the government will introduce a minimum consultation time for Level B items, which will result in $251 million of “efficiencies” over five years. The time limit for a Level B will be pegged at six minutes, according to the AMA.

Lastly, wound care gets a small lift with $47.8 million over five years to fund a chronic wound consumables scheme for people with diabetes aged 65 years and First Nations people aged 50 years and over, offering subsidized wound consumables and providing healthcare professionals with education and training on chronic wound management, the budget paper states.

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