More Gladstone GPs axe bulk billing payment option
GLADSTONE residents unable to pay the full cost of a visit to the doctor could be forced to rely on the hospital system for minor ailments after another clinic stopped bulk billing last week.
Harbour City Family Practice on Toolooa St ceased offering bulk billed appointments to all of its patients as of Thursday.
The clinic has now moved to a mixed billing model, where patients under the age of 16 and over the age of 65 will be bulk billed, but the remainder will not.
Bulk billing is a payment arrangement under which a doctor can choose to bill Medicare directly for the cost of a visit, without the patient having to cover any out-of-pocket costs.
It means clinics avoid the costs linked to following up unpaid debt, but forego any revenue beyond the rebate paid to them by Medicare.
Patient demand for bulk billing remains as high as ever, but it is becoming increasingly rare for doctors to offer the service in regional centres.
Harbour City's decision follows the end of general bulk billing at the Gladstone GP Super Clinic on Philip St at Kin Kora.
The Super Clinic formerly had two doctors offering bulk billing to all of their patients, before one shifted to mixed billing and the other took indefinite leave around the turn of the year.
The only remaining doctor offering a fully bulk billed service in Gladstone is the House Call Doctor service, though it is only available after 6pm on weekdays, after midday on Saturdays, and on Sundays.
Boyne Island Family Medical Centre and Tannum Sands Family Practice are now the closest clinics to Gladstone that offer bulk billed services without age limits or concession card requirements.
United Medical Centres at Kirkwood are believed to offer bulk billing to healthcare card holders, though The Observer was unable to contact a representative of the practice yesterday.
AMA Queensland president Dr Bill Boyd said high administrative costs had made it untenable to run bulk billing practices.
"A medical practice costs a lot of money," Dr Boyd told News Regional Media.
"General practice requires all sorts of compliances and licences... and those are all government requirements.
"Until they resolve that, it's going to be expensive to have healthcare everywhere.
"GPs have found that they cannot run successful medical practices on the Medicare rebate, they cannot do it."
Health Minister Steven Miles said the Federal Government's decision to freeze the Medicare rebate was partially responsible for the decrease in doctors offering bulk billing (though the rebate for GP visits is due to be re-indexed to inflation from July).
"We are seeing increasing pressure on emergency departments like the one at Gladstone Hospital because people have reduced access to a GP," Dr Miles said.
"We're already seeing the evidence that a growing number of people with GP-type ailments like blisters, nose bleeds, ingrown toenails and even hiccups are taking their complaints to Queensland emergency departments."