Gladstone GP Gaston Boulanger.
Gladstone GP Gaston Boulanger.

Why you’re more likely to pay to see a GP

Rising bills, fewer doctors and an under funded Medicare scheme are the top reasons given by health professionals as to why seeing a GP is likely to cost you.

Data from the Health Department shows patients in the Flynn electorate paid an average out of pocket cost of $37.62 in 2018/19, compared with $31.10 in 2012/13.

In Capricornia the average cost to see a GP was $40.60 in 2019/19 compared with $34.95 in 2012/13.

Spokesman for The Australian Medical Association of Queensland, Dr Richard Kidd, told The Observer the average patient has "not really appreciated how much their health services are under threat."

"It's a difficult thing because we don't want to alarm people, but we need to prepare them," he said.

A failure to commit to adequate funding for Medicare from both sides of politics is the primary reason why patients are being asked to pay more, according to Dr Kidd.

"To offer a high quality service is becoming quite unsustainable," he said.

"It really is up to the average Australia to say to their politicians that enough is enough, this is not good enough."

Clinics that completely bulk bill are rare, but one that goes close is Toolooa Family Practice.

Practice manager Sam Moore said patients who see four out of the five doctors at the clinic won't be left out of pocket, and when they are only a small fee of around $12 is charged.

Explaining the challenges of running a practice that is largely bulk billed, Ms Moore said there wasn't much money left over once staff are paid and costs are covered.

Government rebates received for a consultation that lasts around 20 minutes are typically less than $40.

That needs to cover all the usual business expenses; staffing, utilities and rent.

'We don't make a lot of money," she said.

Speaking about clinics that do charge a fee, Ms Moore said she could certainly understand the need, and the lack of bulk billing meant demand was high.

"The less people that bulk bill, the higher in demand we are," she said.

New patients are still being taken, but she did not expect that to be the situation indefinitely.

"It's not going to last forever, because we are one of the very few who bulk bill."

At BITS Medical Centre, if you're under 16, pensioner or a concession card holder, you can see a doctor for free.

For everyone else, an out of pocket cost of $15 is generally charged.

Doctor Gaston Boulanger explained that the Medicare freeze, which kept government rebates the same between 2013 and 2017, was a major challenge.

Since 2017 there has been an increase in GP payments, but Dr Boulanger said it was not enough.

"The increase does not go in line with the increase in costs," he said, citing price rises for things like computers, rent and electricity.

"That's why some medical practices have to ask for a small amount."

Dr Boulanger also said a shortage of medical staff in the region had changed working conditions in town.

"All doctors are working harder and seeing more patients, not because they want to, because they have to."

When asked if the current levels of Medicare funding were adequate, a spokesman for Federal health minister Greg Hunt said the Government would "not be repeating Labor's failed policy".

"Bulk billing levels, which mean that people pay nothing to see the doctor, are 4% higher than they were under Labor," he said.

"It was Labor that introduced the freeze because they couldn't manage the budget."