TOUGH TIMES: Jeff Connor from Blackbutt Medical Centre warned the bulk billing freeze could send rural medicine backwards.
TOUGH TIMES: Jeff Connor from Blackbutt Medical Centre warned the bulk billing freeze could send rural medicine backwards. Danielle Lowe

Medical bill fears

THE unpopular GP co-payment might have been scrapped but one medical professional is concerned the days of bulk billing could still be coming to an end.

Although the Federal Government abandoned a co-payment back in March, the Government has frozen the indexation for Medicare rebates for bulk billed hospital visits during the next four years.

For medical centres, this means the government rebate that pays for bulk-billed visits may not keep up with the increased costs of running the business.

Blackbutt Medical Centre practice manager Jeff Connor feared the changes would need to be passed on to patients who could least afford it.

"I think the reality is that the time will come when practices can't bulk bill," Mr Connor said.

He said practices would still face increased costs that needed to be factored in, despite the freeze.

"On one side of the coin, all our income is bulk billed," he said.

"But the outgoings are going to increase in cost."

He pointed to freight, medicines, staffing as outgoings that were all expected to rise during the next few years.

He predicted bulk-billing clinics like his would move to mixed billing, where patients paid the fee for the visit but were paid a rebate for part of the visit through Medicare.

But he was concerned an end to bulk billing would hurt the elderly the most. "Patients would put off going to the doctor, especially the older demographic," he said.

He feared a change might cost the Government more money than it saved by sending patients to public hospitals for basic treatment.

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