Australian Institute of Health and Welfare releases data on out-of-pocket medical expenses

Bastian Seidel
 Bastian Seidel

The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners is calling for the Medicare rebate to increased amidst concern people are being deterred from regular doctor appointments due to out-of-pocket expenses.

The body’s president and Tasmanian-based general practitioner, Bastian Seidel (pictured), said GPs were regularly being asked by patients to bulk-bill them which placed them in a precarious ethical position.

He said more regular visits to the GP would clearly lead to better health outcomes and reduce pressure placed on the hospital system and emergency departments.

“People are trying to avoid or delay seeing a GP because of the high costs,” Dr Seidel said.

He used the example of skin cancers and melanomas on Tasmanian patients which could be easily removed at a GP surgery in the early stages but often resulted in more invasive treatment as consultation was delayed.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare on Thursday released data on out-of-pocket expenses for people accessing general practitioner and specialist services for 2016-17.

In Tasmania, people in inner Hobart paid the highest median cost of $158 while people in Burnie and Ulverstone paid the lowest at $90. 

Out-of-pocket costs for visits to the GP were between $12 and $28 on average across the state.

Out-of-pocket costs for specialist appointments were between $49 and $55.

Launceston residents paid $121 on average for out-of-pocket medical costs, North-East residents $117, and West Coast residents $109.

Nationally, the average was $142. The data release came on the same day the federal government announced bulk-billing had hit a record 86 per cent.

Health Minister Greg Hunt said this had led to the delivery of more than 133 million free GP visits.

Dr Seidel said there was an opportunity for structural reform in the state and greater investment by the state government in GP services, rather than having all funding go into hospitals.

He said the government had a role to play in ensuring people went to their GPs first and were released into GP care once they left hospital.