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Bulk-billing increase ruled out despite rate rise

The national bulk-billing rate has increased slightly to almost 78 per cent, with NSW having the highest proportion and the ACT the lowest.

Almost one million extra trips to the GP have been bulk-billed since additional incentives for doctors came into effect, but the government has ruled out further rises to the scheme.

The bulk-billing rate rose 2.1 per cent to 77.7 per cent in March, according to government data.

More Australians did not have to pay for an estimated 950,000 extra trips to the doctor in the past five months, federal Health Minister Mark Butler said.

While there has been a large turn around in the number of bulk-billed appointments, the incentives for doctors to do so won't be expanded further.

"(The incentives) are working to arrest, first of all, the freefall in bulk-billing that we inherited when we came to government," Mr Butler told ABC Radio on Monday.

"They're providing much better renumeration to GPs who are bulk-billing ... and we are seeing a pleasing rebound."

Medicare payments for doctors in major cities who bulk-billed for a standard consultation had increased by 34 per cent, while rural and regional doctors had received an extra 50 per cent.

Tasmania recorded the highest increase in bulk-billing since the new incentives came into effect in November, up five per cent, while the ACT recorded the lowest, up 1.3 per cent.

NSW has the highest bulk-billing rate and is the only state to achieve more than 80 per cent, while the ACT has the lowest at just over 50 per cent.

The bulk-billing rate in all other states and the Northern Territory is in the 70s.

Mr Butler said increasing the number of junior doctors looking to go into general practice was also a way of expanding access to clinics.

However, he admitted there was still a long way to go.

Mark Butler says the increase in Medicare payments "is a win all round".

"This is not going to be a change we see overnight, it has never been harder to see a GP than it is right now," he said.

"We have seen general practices around the country close down, particularly in regional areas it's been very hard to attract general practitioners."

Training places for rural GPs are also being expanded in 2024 to help tackle surging demand.

The Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine is set to take up to 165 doctors under the Australian General Practice Training program, while 188 trainees will be offered places under a rural training scheme.

The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners has also recorded an increase in demand with an increase of 88 trainees places from 2023, up to 1255.

The extra training places would result in more doctors in rural and regional communities, the health minister said.


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