DOCTORS have slammed the 65 cent increase to the Medicare rebate consultation fee, arguing the scheme is a band-aid solution to an intensifying problem in regional healthcare.
From July 1, the Medicare rebate for a standard consultation increased from $39.10 to $39.75, meaning GPs will receive an extra 65 cents for every bulkbilled 20-minute appointment.
However, with rising costs of living, regional doctors say the meagre increase is an "insult to the hard work of healthcare professionals."
Bendigo Community Health Services executive leader and GP manager Graem Kelly said while any increase is welcomed, the scheme shows how "out of touch" the government is when it comes to regional healthcare.
"When you consider that, for example, an iceberg lettuce is now $9, a kilo of beans is $44 and fuel is well over $2 a litre, it is a bit insulting to our professional work."
Medicare rebates have been frozen since 2014, initially introduced as a temporary budget savings measure by the then-Labor government.
The current Labor government unfroze the rebates this month, after nine years of stagnant appointment costs and dwindling regional doctors.
"The large number of years by which Medicare has been put on hold has not been covered by this small 65 per cent increase," Mr Kelly said.
"It's undermining our system of where we believe people should be able to access GP services without fearing the cost."
Mr Kelly said an overhaul of the health system is required if the government is to properly address the issues in industry.
"We need a system wide approach to addressing the questions of how to get GPS to regional areas," he said.
"You need localised solutions to attract GPs, what works for one regional area might not work for another."
While the cost of a GP appointment amounts to $39.75, an emergency visit costs the system almost $500.
Mr Kelly said the government should invest in GPs as a protective measure for hospitals.
"A good GP service will try to keep you healthy, and will save you from presenting to emergency for a chronic condition," he said.
"That should be the last point of call, if you've got good GPs out there servicing communities."
In Bendigo, BCHS said people are waiting up to eight weeks to see a GP - if they can even get on a waitlist.
"Most of the surgeries around Bendigo have got closed books," Mr Kelly said.
"And that's a telling sign that there's a complete shortage."
With an ageing population, particularly in the regions, Mr Kelly fears for the future of the healthcare industry.
"There's a large number of regional GPs who are close to retirement, and moved to the regions for their retirement, so that's a double whammy," he said.
"If we don't try and look at innovative models and try to work out potential options to address that GP shortage, then of course the hospital system will buckle."
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