Bulk billing shortage 'hurts families, pensioners'

Sonya Irving
Sonya Irving

A MOUNT Beauty woman says the lack of bulk-billing medical services in the region is hurting families and pensioners.

Sonya Irving said she found it a “culture shock” when she and her family first moved to the Alpine area from Melbourne almost three years ago and discovered there were no bulk-billing clinics.

The mother of two children, aged eight and 12, said she was disappointed by the disparity between city and country areas when it came to accessing affordable healthcare.

“Why do I have to pay a small fortune just because I move to the country?” she said.

“No wonder people don’t go to the doctor — you might get some of it back from Medicare but who can afford to pay $80 up front?”

Mount Beauty was left without a 100 per cent bulk-billing practice when doctor Peter Brown retired in 2011.

At that time, Dr Brown tried to sell his practice to another doctor willing to continue the bulk-billing service but, after sending out 400 unanswered letters, he was unsuccessful.

Dr Brown had voiced his concerns that the lack of bulk-billing could lead to longer waiting times for patients and poor health for struggling families.

Mount Beauty has one main medical practice which, The Border Mail understands, bulk bills only children up to the age of 16.

The centre was contacted for comment but did not return calls yesterday.

Mrs Irving said while her children were covered, she and her husband avoided going to the doctor “unless we’re absolutely desperate”.

“I just don’t understand why it has to be so different in regional areas,” she said.

“Why can’t we access the same services?”

Hume Medicare Local chief executive officer David Dart said the organisation had “very little influence over the commercial decisions” made by clinics as private businesses.

Mr Dart said they had not received any complaints about access to services in the area, but it was a problem exacerbated each year that stemmed from changes made to the Medicare schedule almost two decades ago.

“We’ve got to a point where a national issue in the 1990s has impacted on this ... and it’s been catch-up ever since,” he said.