Financial boost for GPs to increase bulk billing
The bulk-billing incentive for doctors will be tripled in a targeted bid to enable more children, pensioners and healthcare card holders to see a GP for free.
About three in every five GP patients will find it easier to see a bulk-billing doctor thanks to sweeping changes to Medicare.
New financial rewards, which kick in from Wednesday, will triple the incentives for GPs to bulk-bill pensioners, concession card holders and children.
The move, which will affect about 12 million Australians, was previously announced in the federal budget as a response to falling bulk-billing rates.
Under the changes, GPs will be given a $20.65 bonus if they are in cities and an almost $40 bonus in regional areas.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said the changes would help patients receive treatment at the earliest possible opportunity.
"Medicare is at the centre of our health system (and) the primary health care that GPs deliver makes an enormous difference to people," he told reporters on Wednesday.
"(This) happens to be good for the taxpayer as well because ... a slight condition dealt with early, treated properly, ensures it doesn't become an acute condition."
Health Minister Mark Butler said doctors had called for the increases.
"It's a huge boost in confidence and funding to a sector that I think is probably in its most parlous state it's been in the 40-year history of Medicare," he told ABC radio.
"(Clinics) have said they'll be returning to bulk billing or many of them who are considering a change would stick with bulk billing for those more than 11 million Australians."
The new incentives, which are expected to cost $3.5 billion across the next five years, are part of a $6 billion commitment in new measures for the sector.
"We're doing a range of things to boost the viability of general practice to make it easier for patients to see a doctor particularly free of charge," Mr Butler said.
Royal Australian College of General Practitioners president Nicole Higgins welcomed the move.
"It is targeted relief that will help GPs to bulk bill more patients who need it - children, pensioners and healthcare card holders," Dr Higgins said.
"Bulk billing has declined significantly in recent years because Medicare rebates have been below inflation for years, and are nowhere near the cost of care."
Australian Medical Association president Steve Robson said the incentives were a starting point for improving the sustainability of general practice and would provide significant cost-of-iving relief for patients.
"But we know more work can be done," he said.
"We will continue working with the government on developing new programs and initiatives that strengthen primary care and ensure GP-led care is affordable and accessible for all patients."
While discussing the announcement, the prime minister also paid tribute to former Labor leader Bill Hayden, the 'architect of Medicare' who died last month.
"Bill Hayden deserves absolute credit for the work he did and the whole government deserves credit for entrenching this as part of the system."
A state funeral will be held for Mr Hayden on Friday.