Record bulk billing rates and massive telehealth take-up a sign of a successful COVID strategy: Minister says
Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt has highlighted new data showing record GP bulk billing rates for the 2019/20 financial year.
He hailed the rise in bulk billing and the uptake of emergency telehealth measures, as a sign of a successful strategy to remove health care barriers during20 the pandemic.
Bulk billing reached 87.5 per cent of Medicare transactions in the financial year, meaning “on average, more than 8 out of 10 visits to the GP were provided with no out-of-pocket cost,” Mr Hunt said in a media release this week (1 September).
In total, Medicare services increased to $428.3 million, with total benefits reaching $24.7 billion.
Mr Hunt also hailed the extensive take-up of temporary Medicare telehealth services. He said this highlighted a successful measure designed “to ensure Australians have access to the healthcare services they need through the COVID-19 pandemic”.
In the period from 13 March to 30 June 2020, there were 1.4 million COVID-19 video consultations and 16 million COVID-19 phone consultations provided by GPs, specialists and allied health professionals, the Medicare data revealed.
“Temporary telehealth items have played a critical role in the Government’s response to COVID-19,” Mr Hunt said.
“They have allowed patients to access essential health care while minimising the risk of community transmission of the virus”.
The uptake of the telehealth items was greatest for GPs, who provided 13.9 million consultations via phone and another 504,307 by video.
For the 2019–20 financial year, temporary telehealth items represented 8.8 per cent of GP consultations and 4.1 per cent of all Medicare services.
Bulk-billing incentive payments have been temporarily doubled to support sustainable practice, while the types of services eligible for the incentive payments have been expanded.
The Government also required that telehealth services to vulnerable Australians to be bulk billed, Mr Hunt said .
“These measures have reduced the barriers to timely health care for thousands of Australians”.
“Our rapid response to the COVID-19 pandemic has meant better protection for patients and health care providers, and ensured continuity of access to affordable care,” Mr Hunt said, adding that the government’s commitment to Medicare and bulk billing “remains rock solid”.