NATALIE BARR, HOST: A major Medicare shake-up begins today. It will see GPs who bulk bill have their incentive tripled. It's designed to stop declining bulk billing rates so more kids and concession card holders, including pensioners, can access free consultations. But the Australian Medical Association says more still needs to be done to keep GPs in our community. For more, we're joined by Health Minister Mark Butler. Good morning to you. Tell us how many doctors are likely to start or restart bulk billing because of this?
MINISTER FOR HEALTH AND AGED CARE, MARK BUTLER: Doctors groups described this when we announced it as a “game changer” and ever since then, we've been hearing practice after practice say that this will reaffirm their commitment to bulk billing. As you said, more than 11 million kids, pensioners and other concession card holders. This is more than 60 per cent of the throughput of the average general practice. It's a huge boost to their income after a decade of cuts and neglect to Medicare. It's going to be great for general practice but most importantly it's going to make it much easier for those millions of Australians to see a doctor free of charge.
BARR: So how much easier because bulk billing rates, it looks like they dropped from nearly 89 per cent down to 80 per cent just in the last year. That sounds like a lot. How much will they increase because of this?
BUTLER: We'll see as this rolls out. This is the biggest boost to Medicare in decades that we're seeing today, almost $6 billion in new initiatives, the centrepiece of which is this bulk billing initiative. As I said, my colleagues right across the country are saying, practice after practice are saying if they've moved away from bulk billing, they're going to come back and if they were considering moving away, they've reaffirmed their commitment to bulk bill those millions of Australians in the long term. This really will, as the doctors groups say, be a game changer. But we know there is more to do in Medicare where we're delivering the biggest across the board increase to the rebate, over and above the bulk billing incentive, in more than 30 years. Today, we see the beginning of the most comprehensive shingles vaccine programme for over 65 year olds on the planet, $800 million of investment there. We went to the last election Nat, promising to strengthen Medicare and today we're delivering on that promise.
BARR: So what do your figures show about how many more Australians are going to be able to bulk bill because of this plan?
BUTLER: This covers more than 11 million Australians and we've seen, as you said, a shift away from bulk billing after a decade of real financial pressure on general practice, a freeze in the Medicare rebate for six or seven years, then the pressure of COVID, and then they were hit by this global cost of living shock, a big spike in inflation. So, you did see a shift away from bulk billing simply to keep those general practices viable. But they want to continue to bulk bill pensioners and kids, mums and dads taking their sick kids to general practice without any out-of-pocket costs. I'm very confident and we've heard this from doctors themselves and doctor's groups who've said this is a game changer. I'm confident this will turn around what has been a very sharp decline in bulk billing rates over the past few years.
BARR: Mark Butler, thank you very much for your time.