Tuesday, 11 May 2021
Questions without Notice
Rural and Regional Health Services
My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Regional Health, Regional Communications and Local Government, Senator Colbeck. Can the minister update the Senate on how the Liberal and National government is securing Australia's recovery, which means we can deliver better health outcomes for regional Australia, like our plans for an increased bulk-billing incentive for GPs?
I thank Senator McKenzie for her question. We all understand that Senator McKenzie is passionate about rural and regional Australia, like those of us who live in the regions. Senator McKenzie, I know you will be pleased that the coalition government is committed to improving the affordability of health care in remote areas.
As a part of tonight's budget, we will be investing $65.8 million to boost bulk-billing rebates from 1 January 2022 through an increase in the rural bulk-billing incentive. Bulk-billing doctors outside of metropolitan areas currently receive 150 per cent of the base bulk-billing incentive payment. This will be increased based on how remote the practice is, as determined by the Modified Monash Model of assessment. The more remote the area, the greater the incentive payment the GP will receive. Large and medium rural locations, MM 3 to MM 4, will receive an incentive of 160 per cent; rural locations MM 5 will receive an incentive of 170 per cent; rural locations MM 6 will receive an incentive of 180 per cent; and very remote locations, MM 7, will receive an incentive of 190 per cent. This means that, from 1 January 2022, doctors practising in rural and remote areas will be able to receive an incentive payment of up to $12.35 per consultation. These changes recognise the ongoing need to provide the right incentives for the health workforce in rural and remote areas of Australia.
Thank you, Senator McKenzie, for the supplementary question. Doctors in the bush face greater burden of responsibility, more complex care situations and higher rates of chronic disease compared with doctors in the cities, who can rely on support from other medical services and facilities. The coalition government understands that GPs face greater health complexities and challenges in rural and remote areas, which is why more than 10,000 rural and remote GPs will be eligible for the higher bulk-billing incentive. Bulk-billing is an important component of the Medicare system, and outside metropolitan areas many doctors rely on the additional incentive for each consultation to help make ends meet for their clinics. The new rural bulk-billing model will encourage more doctors to consider a career in rural practice.
An opposition senator interjecting—
It's a pity that the opposition seems to be so glib about an important issue. The Stronger Rural Health Strategy aims to build sustainable, high-quality health workforce access across our country according to community need, particularly in rural and remote areas. The new rural incentive rates are another key reform that we have delivered to attract more doctors to the bush and are a key investment in the coalition's 10-year Stronger Rural Health Strategy. We know there isn't a single solution to solving rural doctor shortages, and that's why the government continues to work on a range of practical workforce training and primary care reforms with the aim to create more sustainable healthcare services in rural and remote communities. The strategy also enables a stronger role for nurses and allied health professionals in the delivery of more multidisciplinary health team based models.