16 November 2020

Canberrans among nation's healthiest but GP affordability struggles remain: AIHW

| Dominic Giannini
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Rachel Stephen-Smith says the ACT Government is working on increasing the bulk-billing rate further. Photo: File.

Canberrans are some of the healthiest people in Australia but those who need medical help are waiting longer than acceptable to see a GP, while the ACT ranked the second-worst in the nation for delaying GP visits due to associated costs.

More than 88 per cent of Canberrans rated their health as excellent, very good or good but one-in-five had waited longer than acceptable to see a GP, new data from the Australian Insititute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) found.

The data revealed that 18 per cent of Canberrans saw three or more health professionals for the same condition in the 2018-19 financial year, the sixth-highest score in the nation.

Some Canberrans also face an affordability problem when it comes to healthcare, with 6 per cent delaying a GP visit due to the cost and 6.9 per cent not filling a prescription because of the cost – just above the national average.

Across Australia, between 2 and 9.6 per cent of people avoided filling prescriptions for financial reasons.

“We have a relatively low proportion, or per head of population, access to general practitioners, in terms of the number of GPs in the community, and we have very low rates of bulk billing compared to other jurisdictions and capital cities,” Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith said.

READ ALSO ACT leads nation in health expenditure growth: AIHW

“It is always concerning when we see people delaying their visits to health services as a result of the cost. Obviously it was so disappointing when the Commonwealth Health Minister [Greg Hunt] cut the bulk billing incentives specifically for the ACT.”

The Commonwealth Government changed the classification of Canberra and Queanbeyan in January this year, removing rural incentives for doctors. The extra payment for concession patients and children fell 34 per cent from $9.65 to $6.40 because of the re-classification.

The ACT Government has been providing bulk-billing incentives and rates have increased from just over 51 per cent in 2009 to almost 64 per cent in 2019, Minister Stephen-Smith said.

“Over the last few years we have spent around $12 million to try and increase the rate of bulk billing and we have to some extent been successful. We have seen the proportion of bulk billing increase in recent years but it is still below the rates of other capital cities,” she said.

READ ALSO Dr Nick Coatsworth takes on his toughest appointment yet

“One of the other things we want to do is encourage the Commonwealth to maintain access to telehealth services.

“Through COVID we have seen the importance of people being able to access services via telehealth. It is more convenient for those who have mobility challenges but it [also] provides more opportunities to co-ordinate care where a patient can sit with a GP and consult with a specialist.”

The full report can be accessed through the AIHW.

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