NSW residents could have access to more bulk-billing GPs after Dominic Perrottet announced he would join forces with the Victorian Premier to overhaul the Medicare system.
The proposed reform would provide greater access to bulk-billing GPs and urgent care services, which in turn would reduce pressure on hospital emergency services.
Speaking to the media on Thursday morning, Mr Perrottet said the lack of GPs subsidized by Medicare meant patients were filling emergency rooms with non-urgent conditions.
“We have a system where a lot of people can’t get into a GP and they have category 4, category 5 problems and they show up to a public health emergency department and end up waiting for hours,” he said.
This covers semi-urgent cases (Category 4) such as broken bones and non-urgent (Category 5) problems such as coughs and colds.
Currently, Medicare cuts $39.75 for a standard 20-minute appointment with bulk billing. This means that if GPs charge more than $39.75 for a consultation or do not bulk bill, the patient will have to cover the rest of the cost out of pocket.
However, the number of bulk billing GPs is declining. Figures for December 2022 saw fully subsidized GP visits falling from 87% to 83.4% between July and September 2022.
“Right now we have a real opportunity coming out of a 100- to 150-year pandemic to reform the health care system,” he added.
“We have a moment this year to work together, First Ministers, First Ministers and Health Ministers, to fix the national health system to have greater access so that people can see their GP and ensure us to have a public health system that works alongside the primary care network, not against it.”
It comes as the NSW and Victorian governments announced in August 2022 that they will open 25 free urgent care clinics in each state to fill the gap left by bulk-billing GPs.
The clinics are designed for patients who require medical attention within 2 to 12 hours, who do not require care from the hospital’s emergency department.
Perrottet said that if his government were to win the upcoming March election, Medicare reform would be a “key priority.”
However, shadow health minister Ryan Park said that while he supported more federal government funding to the hospital system, he accused the state coalition of neglecting the health system, citing waiting times record for ambulances, elective surgeries and emergency departments.
“This is under this government after a decade of under-resourcing and under-staffing in our state’s hospital systems,” Park said.
“I want to make that very, very clear today. I’m not going to wait 12 years to start engaging with the Commonwealth on major health reform, and I’m not going to wait 12 years to admit we have a problem in our hospitals.”
Park added that he had written to the Commonwealth Government in 2022 to request an extension of the 50-50 pandemic-related health funding between the state and federal governments.
Ending December 31, 2022, the split reverted to a 55-45 split in early 2023.
Moving forward, the shadow health minister called for reform for hospital shift staffing and more health staff, in particular a push for an extra 500 paramedics in regional areas.
Originally published as NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet pushes Medicare reform for more bulk-billing GPs