Medical costs drive Aussies away from GPs

Australians, like most people around the world currently, are looking for ways to save money in all areas, including health. And while taking shortcuts with one’s health is not generally a good idea it’s seemingly inevitable for some struggling financially. Keeping medical costs down might be seen as the only choice for some needing to pay for other life essentials.

The easiest way to save money on health care – in the short term at least – is not to see a doctor. And not buy any medicine. But by postponing a diagnosis and any required treatment, you risk much greater costs – financially and health-wise – down the track. 

There are, of course, other alternatives, like visiting a bulk-billing GP or attending emergency wards at hospitals. The latter option might not cost the patient, but it can add further strain to already-struggling emergency wards. That’s not good for hospital staff or patients with genuinely urgent medical conditions.

Finding a bulk-billing GP is usually a better option (assuming your condition is not urgent) but it’s also much harder these days. And it may be about to get harder still.

Rebate rates to doctors have not kept pace with inflation since the introduction of bulk-billing. This has driven a number of doctors away from the practice over time. Now, a change to tax rules in some states means GPs face higher payroll taxes. This could force still more GPs away from the bulk-billing model.

It’s a concern that patients and doctors both share. Speaking on SBS News, Sydney GP Dr Rebekah Hoffman said: “When people come to you and say, ‘I need to decide between going to the dentist or paying for petrol,’ it’s a really, really worrying time.”

So how can ordinary Aussies keep medical costs down?

That’s the $64 question. Or perhaps more accurately here, the $41.20 question. That’s the cost of an Item 23, level B surgery visit – a standard GP consultation of less than 20 minutes.

Dr Hoffman offered a few of her own ideas for keeping medical costs down. The first and most obvious of those is to go to a bulk-billing GP. Though dropping in number, there are still GPs who bulk-bill, and websites to help you find them.

One such website is Cleanbill. Founded by James Gillespie in 2022, Cleanbill, in the website’s own words, has “one clear goal: to increase healthcare accessibility”. 

The website’s landing page allows you to choose the required service (dentist or GP) and enter your location. From there, it allows you to filter by distance and/or price, with an option to select ‘bulk-billed’ only. It’s an easy-to-use site that could be very useful.

Dr Hoffman also suggests making better use of your GP visit by combining your issues or questions to save on medical costs. Of course, if you are sick, you’ll likely need to see a doctor straight away, but such a visit can be used to ask health-related questions that you may have already had. Making a list of non-urgent issues or questions is a good idea. These can then be raised when you next visit your GP for another matter.


If you’re looking to get a new prescription for a medication you’ve previously taken, an in-person visit to your GP is not necessarily required. Some GPs will provide a new script without consultation if they already know your medical history and requirements. Others will be happy to dispense a new prescription after a short phone call.

These telehealth calls are often bulk-billed, meaning you won’t pay for the consultation. On top of this, some medications can now be prescribed for 12 months, rather than six. Patients can also purchase a two-month supply of these medications at a time, saving further costs. 

Telehealth appointments can also be used for other purposes when a physical examination is not required. Not all of these are bulk-billed, but they can save you time, which may indirectly save you money as well.

A left-field option for keeping medical costs down

One option that could become a reality in Australia is what’s known as a shared consultation. The prospect was raised recently on ABC Melbourne radio by senior lecturer at Deakin University Dr Michael Axtens.

A former GP himself, Dr Axtens told the ABC’s Ali Moore that patients choosing this option would join group sessions. These sessions, in place of one-on-one consultations, would be two-hour affairs alongside seven other patients with similar conditions.

The bulk-billed sessions could provide patients with eight times the amount of information they would normally receive, Dr Axtens said. Such sessions would obviously not be for everyone, but they could be an important part of the mix in future.

Times are tough for many Australians, financially. However, if you’re avoiding treatment to save on medical costs, there may be options available. A call to your local GP could be a good starting point.

Have you avoided medical consultations because of financial pressure? Would you consider having a shared consultation? Let us know via the comments section below.

Also read: Medical alarm supplier gives privacy reassurance

Health disclaimer: This article contains general information about health issues and is not advice. For health advice, consult your medical practitioner.

Andrew Gigacz
Andrew Gigacz
Andrew has developed knowledge of the retirement landscape, including retirement income and government entitlements, as well as issues affecting older Australians moving into or living in retirement. He's an accomplished writer with a passion for health and human stories.


  1. I found that I get better value from visiting a naturopath. My GP will give me 10 minutes and out I go with a prescription. This costs me after medicare rebate A$ 40. My naturopath will give me an hour of his time, more if needed, and I pay $ 100. We both get a much better understanding of what is wrong and my homeopathic medicine will cost me around $ 20-30. It won’t fix the symptoms immediately, but let the body heal itself with a little help. Medical doctors are needed in some acute cases, but for many illnesses the naturopath can get you better care and help, plus empower you to stay healthy by giving an insight into underlying causes and what to work on. All illness is caused by lifestyle, either diet, lack of exercise or lack of rest / sleep.

  2. I used to go and get blood tests and check ups.
    I have medical conditions. But I can’t go anymore as no bulk billing available. I’m a low paid nurse and I can’t pay rent and GP visits . It’s hardly a living wage now as we have fallen so far behind.
    I’ll go to emergency dept if it gets too bad.
    The Dole might be my next option as I may get bulk billed

  3. I have a good local GP who charges low fees and bulk bills pensioners (not us self funded ones sadly) so that is not so much an issue. But I am currently looking at a small operation and seeing a couple of specialists. My foot guy, his first five min consult was $280. He says he wants to operate, but though I have full hospital cover he still wants an extra $500 gap fee paid by me on top. For a five minute operation, that is hard to justify (for me at least!). I have spoken to my health fund and they say they can’t help, what surgeons want to charge is up to them. The system is broken.

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