What’s up Doc? Try these tricks to save money on medical services

VISITING a doctor can be painfully expensive for people who don’t consider strategies that save money without compromising their health care.

Medical services costs in Australia have climbed three times faster than overall inflation — up 84 per cent in the past decade, according to Bureau of Statistics data.

A report released this month by the Consumers Health Forum says one in five Australians don’t visit a GP because of cost, and one in six fail to fill a script for the same reason.

“Australian consumers face higher than average out of pocket costs,” it says.

Many medical practices cut back on bulk billing after the Federal Government froze the Medicare rebate for GP appointments at $37.05 a few years ago, although this freeze lifts from July 1 with a 1.95 per cent, or 72c, rise.

Pharmacist Matina Karanicolas said many pharmacies offered free blood pressure checks and blood glucose checks, whooping cough vaccines and flu vaccines.

“That would save a patient going to the doctor, waiting times and consult fees. You walk into a pharmacy and 15 minutes later you are gone and all you have to pay for is the vaccine,” she said.

Pharmacists also can provide medical certificates, usually for a small fee.

“People don’t realise we do all these other services,” Mrs Karanicolas said. “Many doctors can charge $70-$80 for a 15 minute appointment. If there’s any issue we would always refer them back to the doctor.”

Royal Australian College of General Practitioners president Dr Bastian Seidel said people should be careful that their healthcare was not too fragmented. “We as GPs want patients to contact us,” he said.

Don’t try to save money by self-diagnosing online. “There’s information overload now. The GP puts this information into context, and the context is you — no one size fits all,” Dr Seidel said.

He said patients could potentially save money by familiarising themselves with the Medicare Safety Net. “The Federal Government to a certain extent will lower out of pocket costs — it’s not really well known.”

You can cut costs by avoiding brand name drugs and instead buying generics, which have the same active ingredient.

Pharmacy Guild of Australia spokesman Greg Turnbull said this could save up to 30 per cent on medicines.

“Pharmacists are trained to assess and provide on-the-spot solutions for minor ailments such as toothaches, stomach aches, colds or hay fever,” he said.