End of bulk billing has a ripple effect
IN the wake of the demise of medical bulk billing in the Whitsundays, there are concerns for the welfare of some locals.
Whitsunday Neighbourhood Centre executive officer Rebecca Woods was worried about the serious effects of rising costs of living, including medical costs, for low- income earners and recipients of government benefits.
Ms Woods said bulk billing "definitely needs to come back”.
"The government needs to step up and fix this, and I can't imagine we're the only region this is affecting,” she said.
Standard consultation fees in the region are about $70-$75 before a government rebate provided of about $37. Health Care Card holders can receive a discount at some medical centres, at th centre or doctor's discretion.
Some centres do not accept Health Care Cards, while others do and offer full bulk-billed rebates through Centrelink - with no upfront payment required - or a discounted fee that leaves the patient out of pocket about $15.
Ms Woods also cited a lack of doctors in the region as a long-standing problem.
"We're just starting to see the impact that the end of bulk billing will have on the community,” she said.
"While there is an automatic refund from Medicare, to a person on a welfare benefit, they don't have the $40 still needed to go to the doctor.”
Ms Woods said that with rising rent, living expenses and electricity bills, many people were "constantly” in debt.
"There's never a time when they're not behind already,” she said.
"It means there's people basically living in poverty situations and, because they're not seeking medical support, they're completely disadvantaged from a well-being and health perspective.”
She said the knock-on effects could be devastating with people seeking food relief from charitable organisations "which in itself can be demoralising and have an impact on self-confidence”.
Ms Woods said the ripple effects were significant as illnesses went untreated, sick days were taken from work, or people became at risk of losing their jobs.
She said it was devastating for families who could not afford trips to the doctor for their children.
"This is a community problem. And when you can't help your kids, this is when people start to go into medical depression. This isn't just a bad day, this is a case of, 'I seriously question myself as a parent because I can't afford to do this'. And they can't see any end in sight,” she said.