Topics: Medicare bulk billing rate hits historic 86.1 per cent; public hospitals harvesting private patients
Let’s welcome Greg Hunt, the federal Health Minister. Greg, thanks for coming on today.
Good morning, Leon.
So you’ve got an interesting thing where the data looks very good, but there are people who are going to ring in and say, well hang on a minute it doesn’t gel with my experience. Why would that be?
Sure. So what has been released today is the new bulk billing figures for Australia, and what that shows in South Australia is that record bulk billing, which means that people are going to the doctor without having to pay anything at all. The figures for South Australia, 84.9 per cent, the highest they’ve ever been, up from 81.3 per cent in 2012. Or to put it in real terms, an extra 220,000-plus people saw their GP without having to pay anything in the last year, and an extra $1.5 million services a year now, compared to 2012, without any cost.
At the same time, there are some figures which have been put out today by the Institute of Health and Welfare and what that really shows is that doctors are working with patients, so as lower income patients are not being charged significantly where there is an out-of-pocket.
So for the remaining 15 per cent of services, there are out-of-pockets. For the 85 per cent of services for GPs, there’s nothing, there’s a zero cost. And interestingly though, it shows that in higher income areas that doctors are more likely to charge an out-of-pocket. In lower income areas, they’re less likely to charge an out-of-pocket and I think that that’s a very, very important message that comes through from all of this.
So outback north and east South Australia has one of the lowest rates of out-of-pockets in the country, whereas in south Canberra, about 78 per cent of patients might pay something at some time during some visit at some stage during the course of a year.
So again, if you’re somebody listening to this who says, hang on Minister, it’s not seemed to be happening and I’m not a high income earner, what would you suggest they do?
Well, I think the critical thing is we know that for SA we’ve now got the highest rate of bulk billing ever. So 85 per cent of services, 85 per cent of the time that people go to the doctor, they will have for their GP a completely free service. That means that everybody has to make their own choice as to the doctor they see.
It’s available to them, but these figures give a really strong indication. It also shows that the highest bulk billing rates in South Australia, they’re cut by federal electorate , Wakefield, Port Adelaide and Makin are all around 90 per cent or above 90 per cent. And so those areas have particularly high levels where people will go to the doctor and the doctor will not charge a fee at all.
Now there is an issue in SA where there’s a massive bed shortage and there are people who have gone inter-state to get operations because they can’t find private beds. A lot of this is because the government system is using the rental system to take beds into private institutions which then of course means that somebody’s presenting not so much with an emergency but with a problem that needs to be fixed, might have somewhat of a wait or have to go somewhere else.
Look one of the things that’s absolutely happened under some of the governments around Australia, and I know that Stephen Wade and Stephen Marshall are actually directly trying to address this because they’ve inherited it only very recently, is that patients were being harvested out of private hospitals to public hospitals. These are private patients, people with private health insurance.
They were then effectively given priority over lower income patients who may not have private health insurance and the waiting times for those patients were being blown out. And therefore the state was scrambling in a very weird way under the previous government to work out how to reduce the waiting list problem that they had caused.
So by harvesting patients and taking them out of private hospitals and trying to harvest their private health insurance, they were blowing out their waiting lists and then creating this weird merry-go-round where they were trying to take the public patients and put them somewhere into a private hospital.
It doesn’t make much sense. I’ve had this discussion with Stephen Wade, the new Health Minister in SA. He’s taken a very sensible approach. He’s looking at it and saying, well how do we streamline it so as those patients who have the greatest need – exactly the ones you’ve identified – are given the greatest priority?
When will that happen? When are we going to see a change, do you know?
I’ll leave that to Stephen who is taking a very careful approach to it but he recognised that the previous government created a merry-go-round which is really unhelpful for patients and inefficient.
And I think a lot of it was also caused by the chaos at the Royal Adelaide Hospital which was meant to resolve things but of course it was bungled. It’s now got its accreditation, which is a tribute to, I think, all of the doctors and nurses that have worked there. But I know that this was the number one priority for both the Premier and the new Health Minister when they came in.
Alright, Greg Hunt federal Health Minister. Thank you.