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Govt figures show fall in GP bulk-billing

AAP logoAAP 14/11/2016 Belinda Merhab

Australians are forking out more to see a doctor as the Turnbull government's GP freeze takes its toll on bulk-billing rates.

Official Medicare figures show a drop-off in bulk-billing since the coalition was re-elected on July 2, with its unpopular policy to continue the GP rebate freeze until 2020.

Bulk-billing for GP services fell to 85.4 per cent in the September quarter, down from 85.9 per cent in the June quarter.

The quarterly figures, usually heralded by the health minister, were quietly published by the Department of Health on Friday.

Australian Medical Association vice president Tony Bartone said the figures were starting to show what doctors already knew anecdotally.

"For many, many months - the best part of a few years - all doctors, all practices, have been absorbing the costs, absorbing the pressures," he told AAP.

"A tipping point had to be reached sooner or later and I think we've crossed that line now.

"This is more than just a blip - it's a backward step."

The figures also show average out-of-pocket costs for patients who aren't bulk-billed have doubled over the past decade, to $34.61 in the September quarter.

Average out-of-pocket costs have risen in every state and territory since the same quarter in 2015/16 - topping $40 in the Northern Territory and ACT.

Royal Australian College of GPs president Bastian Seidel says while the figures show a drop in bulk-billing rates, it'll likely take another batch of quarterly numbers to get a better picture of what's happening.

He says the government needs to release specific figures on how many GP consultations are being bulk-billed, because the current figures may be skewed by the inclusion of many other Medicare items like management plans which doctors typically bulk-bill.

Opposition health spokeswoman Catherine King said Malcolm Turnbull's election promise that no one would pay more to see the doctor as a result of the freeze was a "complete and utter lie".

"This is the evidence Malcolm Turnbull didn't want revealed - bulk billing is dropping and he knows it," Ms King said.

"The government needs to pull their head out of the sand and admit that their health policies are hurting Australians."

Health Minister Sussan Ley is hailing the figures as evidence Labor's so-called "Mediscare" campaign against the government's GP freeze is a lie.

She's pointing to the growth rate in bulk-billing since the September quarter last year - from 84.6 to 85.4 per cent.

"No matter how Labor tries to spin it, today's figures once again show that Medicare investment and bulk billing rates continue to remain higher under the coalition than under Labor."

Labor promised to protect Medicare and bulk-billing during the federal election campaign by pledging to lift the GP rebate freeze.

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