What Australia’s Health Panel said about bulk billing- September 2022

Australia is often touted as having one of the best health systems in the world, providing safe and affordable healthcare to all Australians. An Australia's Health Panel survey run in February this year found that consumers generally believe that Medicare is highly valuable to both Australia at large and to them as individuals.

Recent media coverage and research has called into question the purported universality of our healthcare system, with more and more consumers being told their healthcare providers will no longer be bulk billing them for healthcare. Bulk Billing is the backbone of making healthcare affordable and accessible in Australia, with the Government paying a set "rebate" through Medicare that allows for Australians to receive the healthcare free of charge,

So for the August/September 2022 Australia’s Health Panel Survey, we asked what consumer experiences had been in obtaining medical services, whether they were bulk billed and how affordable they found the Australian health care system in 2022.

We found that Australian consumers are confident in the healthcare they receive being of high quality, but are not confident it will be timely or affordable. They are frequently deferring health appointments due to cost or going to emergency/hospital to receive affordable care. They overwhelmingly believe that the government needs to invest more in primary healthcare and Medicare.

Bulk billing was found to not provide the universal free healthcare coverage as intended. In 2022 most consumers reported having to pay at least some of the cost as a gap fee when seeing a GP and found that specialists simply have no bulk billing or Medicare coverage at all, leading to extremely high medical costs.

It was also clear that bulk billing services are both difficult to find and becoming less accessible over time. While most participating panellists hadn’t recently experienced a change in billing practices by a provider, those who had were universally moving in the direction of increasing out-of-pocket costs for the consumer. With over a quarter either changing or considering changing their provider due to this change of cost, suggesting it could be disrupting continuity of care.

The low usage of MyGov or Medicare Online indicated continued low engagement with those platforms by consumers and the reported rate of incorrect cost data suggests that further investigation is warranted into the veracity of data through which official statistics are generated.

The survey also revealed consumers are supportive of a wide range of measures to address the bulk billing crisis, ranging from increasing the rebate to expanding the scope of what services are covered to completely rethinking the fee-for-service funding model at a fundamental level.

The results of this research will inform our advocacy and partnerships, including our work on the Strengthening Medicare Taskforce.

The Consumers Health Forum of Australia would like to thank all panellists for giving up their time to participate in this survey. Any questions about this survey and its findings can be directed to info@chf.org.au.