If you, like me, have been getting sick a lot lately (thank you, post-lockdown flu season), you’ve probably struggled to find a local GP who bulk-bills. No, you’re not imagining it — more and more medical clinics are moving to private billing or charging gap fees because, according to them, Medicare’s bulk-billing rebate just isn’t enough to cover costs anymore.

According to news.com.au, the average out-of-pocket costs patients are paying to see their GP have increased by 50 per cent in the last decade. During the same time, the gap between a GP’s fee and the Medicare refund they receive has more than tripled. How much does Medicare rebate doctors, you ask?

For a standard consult it’s $39.75, which is not a whole lot considering the impacts of inflation — practices still need to pay staff, rent for the clinic and buy equipment. Basically, they’re still small businesses even though they provide necessary health care.

“We’ve seen over the time that Medicare has existed, it used to be that the Medicare rebate for a usual consult covered costs of providing that care,” Australian Medical Association (AMA) vice-president Danielle McMullen told The Today Show.

“We now find that Medicare rebate covers less than half of the cost of running a consultation.

“GPs across the country are just saying that enough is enough. We just can’t afford to keep our doors open and work under those bulk-billing arrangements.

“At the end of the day they’re also small businesses and we are urging the government to take heed of that and to work with us to make sure general practice remains sustainable so we can take care of the patients across the country.”

In 2021, 88% of GPs were bulk-billed. According to the Australian Society of General Practice president Chris Irwin, over 60 per cent of GPs could be looking to introduce gap fees.

If this happens to your local clinic, you can expect to pay around $86 for a standard or $140 for a long consultation. Medicare will give you a rebate of $39.10 and $75.75, respectively. So in the case of a standard appointment, you’ll get back less than half of what you paid.

According to the AMA, around two-thirds of patients seeing GPs are bulk billed for their appointment — which means a lot of people will find themselves struggling with out of pocket costs should more clinics charge gap fees.

I’m one of them.

As a woman, it’s pretty hard to find a doctor you trust and who actually takes you seriously. I finally did a couple of years ago, and for the first time in my life had a regular GP. But, as of this month, they’re now charging a gap fee. Which sucks because I’d prefer not to shell out $40 any time I need a doctor’s certificate for work or need to renew my referrals.

Now I’m trying to find a new clinic — but that itself has proven to be difficult because the few bulk-billing clinics around me that are left are always in high demand and booked out.

It’s also pretty concerning in terms of Telehealth appointments too, which we’ve come to rely on during the pandemic.

To be eligible for a bulk-billed Telehealth appointment, you have to have been going to that GP during the past 12 months. Otherwise you will face a charge — for a new patient to access Telehealth appointment at my local clinic, the cost is $60.

If you need to change GPs because yours no longer bulk-bills or because every clinic around you is booked out and you’re desperate, and you need a Telehealth appointment specifically, things could get real fkn expensive.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese promised to “strengthen” Medicare during his election campaign. He promised a $970 million investment into primary health care and GP practices which the AMA called a “strong down payment” into keeping health care accessible for all.

Let’s make sure we hold our government to account with that one because inaccessible healthcare, especially during a pandemic, is a fkn disaster.