Budget 2017: Visiting the doctor might get cheaper

Richard Laycock 10 May 2017 NEWS

Centrelink and Medicare sign handing from an orange roof

Bulk-billing is the big winner with the lifting of the Medicare rebate freeze.

After four years, it looks like there will be an end to the Medicare rebate freeze, which opens the door to greater access to bulk-billing for many Australians.

In 2013, the Labor Government introduced the freeze as a temporary measure as part of a budget reduction plan and the freeze was set to stay in place until 2020.

The rebate amount for a standard GP consultation was set at $37, which is only a fraction of the cost incurred by medical practitioners. The Australian Medical Association (AMA) claimed that the rebate freeze put these medical practitioners in the untenable position of either eating the remaining cost themselves or passing them onto their patients.

The lifting of the rebate freeze means that the government will be taking some of the burden off of medical practitioners, which theoretically means that they will be more inclined to offer bulk-billing services.

However, the removal of the rebate freeze will not happen overnight, rather the changes will be rolled out over the coming three years in stages:

  • 1 July 2017: Bulk billing incentives for GP consultations.
  • 1 July 2018: Standard GP consultations and other specialist consultations.
  • 1 July 2019: Procedures.
  • 1 July 2020: Targeted diagnostic imaging services.

The rebate freeze has long been a source of consternation for medical professionals and its removal should work towards easing tensions.

“The AMA would have preferred to see the Medicare freeze lifted across the board from 1 July 2017, but we acknowledge that the three-stage process will provide GPs and other specialists with certainty and security about their practices and patients can be confident that their health care will remain accessible and affordable,” said AMA president Dr Michael Gannon.

What else is happening?

The Medicare levy is rising from 2% to 2.5%, which will go towards funding the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).

"The funding gap is currently $55.7 billion over the next 10 years. We have previously sought to close this gap with budget savings that we have not been able to get through the Parliament," said Scott Morrison.

The increase will come into effect from 1 July 2019 in a bid to close this gap. This increase means that one-fifth of contributions to the Medicare levy will go towards supporting the NDIS.

Affordable medication is another promise from this budget, with $1.2 billion being provided for new and amended listings on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. Of this funding, patients suffering from chronic heart failure will receive approximately $510 towards medication. The government will also be investing $15 million towards healthy heart initiatives in conjunction with GPs and The Heart Foundation. The reduction in the costs for medication is projected to save taxpayers $1.8 billion over the coming five years.

Families who fail to immunise their children will be $28 worse off every fortnight, as part of the Family Tax Benefit. The government's No Jab No Pay policy will be receiving $19.6 million, to encourage a rise in vaccination rates.

Mental health support and prevention will receive more than $165 million towards research and support services.

The Australian government's ehealth service, My Health Record, will receive $374.2 million in funding over the next two years as it changes from an opt-in to an opt-out service. This means that from July onwards, every Australian will have an account unless they choose not to.

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Picture: simez78 / Shutterstock

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