1 in 2 Australians slugged with out-of-pocket medical costs

Canberrans most likely to be slugged fees for Medicare services

Health advocates have described the figures as concerning.

More than one million Australians put off seeing a GP or medical specialist a year ago because the bills were too steep, a report has found.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) report, published on Thursday, found that Australians paid three billion Australian dollars (2.17 billion USA dollars) out-of-pocket every year despite bulk billing rates being higher than ever.

President of the Royal Australian College of GPs Harry Nespolon said just 29 per cent of GPs bulk-billed all their patients.

The average out-of-pocket costs ranged from $12 in Western Sydney to $32 in the ACT. In 2016-17, 86% of GP services were bulk-billed while 66% of patients had all of their GP services bulk-billed...

But the patients pay $3 billion on top of this.

Half of all patients who used those services - 10.9 million people - had to cover some of the cost because it wasn't all subsidised by Medicare.

Roughly 1.1 million people paid at least $601 out-of-pocket for these services in 2016-17.

Patients don't get scripts filled because they can't afford to.

Patients in Northern Sydney forked out an average of $206 for Medicare services; the highest in the country and nearly double that of Western Queensland ($104).

The median out-of-pocket costs for patients was $142, but varied greatly across the country.

Seven in ten residents in the ACT had to pay medical gap fees, the highest proportion in the nation and their gap fees were also larger in size.

The median out-of-pocket cost per patient during 2016-17 ranged from $104 in Western Queensland to $206 in Northern Sydney.

In Tasmania 60 per cent of patients faced gap fees, the third highest number in the nation after the ACT and North Sydney.

Overall, patients spent $3 billion on out-of-pocket costs in 2016, of which 34 per cent went to specialists, 25 per cent to Global Positioning System, 12 per cent to diagnostic imaging and 6.6 per cent to obstetrics.

"A range of factors can influence out-of-pocket costs".

The median expense per specialist appointment for Canberrans was $87, compared to the metropolitan median of $68.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare found that patients forked out $3 billion in total costs, with people out-of-pocket on average $142.

"These can include the types of services the patient requires, the availability of bulk billing and the cost of services in their area".

Australians visited a doctor for free a record number of times in the past year, new Medicare figures show.

Exposing the excessive costs charged by some medical professionals will help prevent people being dealt hefty fees by surprise, the federal government says.

"We want strong action, built around fee transparency, ensuring consumers know exactly what the cost of a service is well before they commit to it", Mr Hunt said.

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