Bulk-bill travel for GP patients

Three Northern regional medical centres that provide universal bulk-billing say patients are travelling from Launceston partly to save on medical bills.

Practices at Deloraine and Westbury, branches of the same business, and another at Scottsdale report having clients travelling from Launceston attracted in part by universal bulk-billing.

The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners’ president Bastian Seidel on Friday warned universal bulk-billing had almost disappeared in the state’s general practices.

A lot of our patients that move away from the area will come back because they know we bulk-bill. - Sharon Davis

However a spokesman for federal Health Minister Sussan Ley said department figures showed that bulk-billed rates were steady. 

Deloraine Medical Centre’s Sharon Davis said it received patients from Devonport and Launceston.

“A lot of our patients that move away from the area will come back because they know we bulk-bill,” she said.

Scottsdale Medical Centre said patients travelled from Launceston for many reasons, but believed bulk-billing was one. The medical centres said it was becoming harder for services to bulk-bill as costs rose while the Medicare rebate freeze continued.

Tasmania recorded a 74 per cent bulk-billed rate in the September quarter, according to Department of Health figures. The rate shows the number of services provided, not the percentage of patients bulk-billed.

Bulk-billed rates in Tasmania were 74.1 per cent in the September quarter last year, and 75.6 per cent in the same quarter the year before. Dr Seidel told media on Friday bulk-billing trends were changing under the Medicare rebate freeze. 

A spokesman for Ms Ley said data showed the rate was steady. 

“There’s no evidence to suggest it’s denying access to people,” he said.

“We’ve got to rely on the figures, the figures are telling a story and the story is it’s fairly steady.”

The Medicare rebate freeze was helping to reduce the budget deficit, he said.

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