GPs incentivised to register aged care patients, but is it enough to increase access?

Last updated on 1 December 2023

The Government has announced a new incentive for GPs to increase the number of aged care residents they treat. [Source: Shutterstock]

General Practitioners treating aged care patients will receive additional incentives and funding as of next year, but there are concerns within the GP community that more than the extra payments are needed. This could ultimately still leave aged care residents without the regular access to GPs they need.

Key points

  • The Federal Government announced a $6.1 billion commitment to strengthen Medicare as part of its May 2023 Budget
  • This included the launch of MyMedicare, a patient ID system to support more cohesive care for patients, and additional payments for GPs with patients who are admitted to hospital more than ten times over 12 months
  • There was also a tripling of bulk billing incentives for consultations with concession card holders and children under 16 to re-engage patients as increasing out-of-pocket costs led to declining numbers of GP visits and services

MyMedicare, a voluntary patient registration model designed to strengthen the relationship between patients and their healthcare professionals, was officially launched in October. While voluntary, the platform is at the heart of the new incentives revealed by the Minister for Health and Aged Care, Mark Butler, during the week.

Minister Butler outlined his expectations for MyMedicare, which has already received 370,000 patients and 5,000 general practice registrations. 

“MyMedicare will help Medicare go beyond the limitations of fee-for-service, with a range of blended funding packages to help practices tailor care to patients from priority groups,” he explained.

“The first two blended funding packages will become available in the middle of next year. One will be targeted at the more than 13,000 patients that present to hospital ten or more times in a given year. And the other at the nearly 200,000 Australians in residential aged care.”

“Practices registered for MyMedicare will be paid incentives to provide their registered patients in aged care with regular visits and care planning. The incentives include, $300 per patient, per year to be paid quarterly to the GP him or herself, and $130 per patient, per year to be paid quarterly to the practice,” Minister Butler added.

Payments will also increase in line with the remoteness of the community and they will complement – and not replace – existing Medicare rebates.

Will this improve GP access?

Australians living in regional and remote areas have been among those most affected by GP shortages, whether as a result of limited local healthcare resources or high demand that delays important appointments.

The annual GP Aged Care Access Initiative incentive payment is a helpful boost as it will give GPs an extra reason to engage with aged care residents. However, with limited details available, there are concerns it may not go far enough to truly affect change.

MyMedicare itself has caused headaches for many healthcare professionals and patients as its October launch resulted in sign-up delays. A technical issue resulted in providers not registering properly, meaning their practice was not visible to patients signing up.

“Given the program’s importance, it’s so vital that they get these initial first steps right so it’s easy for GPs and practice managers to sign up and for patients to sign up, and that obviously hasn’t happened,” RACGP President, Dr Nicole Higgins, told newsGP

“As each stage rolls out, we need to make sure that we test it and that practices, GPs, and practice managers are stepped through at every point. When we’re doing change management, I would expect that the department should be informing us each step of the way.”

Minister Butler was confident when discussing the need for Medicare improvements. He acknowledged the ageing demographics and a growing number of people with chronic health conditions continue to place additional pressure on the healthcare and aged care systems.

“In the Northern Rivers of New South Wales, Doctor Ken Stockley told us ‘It is going to encourage those that have recently changed to private billing to go back to bulk billing.’ And even in these early days, only three weeks into the new incentives, that is exactly what we are seeing across the country, clinics everywhere making that shift,” Minister Butler said.

With the payment’s 2024 introduction yet to be confirmed, as well as details regarding potential patient registration caps, its exact implementation remains unclear. An existing incentive, the Practice Incentive Program, has several payment tiers with up to $10,000 available per year. This is the equivalent of 34 aged care patient registrations per year.

Several people working in the healthcare sector have taken to social media to express their concerns, as some believe the patient incentives, paid quarterly at $75 per person, are inadequate. If it is perceived as insufficient, GPs may not be inclined to seek out additional aged care patient registrations. 

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