Bulk or mixed billing? Is that the question with any GP job?

14 March 2017 | Australian GPs, UK/Ireland GPs | 6 minutes read

Bulk or mixed billing? Is that the question with any GP job?

Bulk or mixed billing?  That is the question with any GP job.

UK GPs wanting to find a GP job in Australia often ask for jobs in mixed billing practices in preference to bulk billing practices. Are mixed billing practices better places to work?

Firstly, some background.

In February 1984, the Medicare system was introduced by the Australian government, granting basic healthcare to all Australians.

While Medicare is “free”, it’s funded by tax payers in form of a medicare levy tax. The Medicare rebate can be claimed by all Australians for eligible medical services.

What is Bulk Billing?

What does bulk billing mean? Bulk billing means that the patient doesn’t have to pay for eligible medical services. The medical practice which offers bulk billing, accepts the Medicare benefit as full payment for the service.

It also means that GPs working in bulk billing practices see their patients entirely at the expense of the government through its healthcare system, Medicare, which allows $37.05 (for a standard 10-minute consult) for everyone to visit the doctor when needed. In a bulk billing practice, no money changes hands between the patient and the GP for the consultation or visit. The practice simply bulk bill Medicare for all the patient visits. It’s simple and easy, and very like the way GPs see patients on the NHS in the UK.

Not all practices choose to bulk bill. If you’d like to find out if a specific practice offers bulk billing, you can visit healthdirect.gov.au to find out.

What are the Advantages of Bulk Billing?

There are advantages of bulk billing for patients and for doctors likewise:

  • Patients don’t have any out-of-pocket expenses when visiting a bulk billing GP because the GP gets paid by Medicare.
  • Practices are able to offer medical services to more people, for example, families with low income. Bulk billing practices are therefore busier and typically have more patients. There is a bit of a misconception that bulk billing practice only attract patients from lower socio-economic backgrounds, however that’s not true. In fact, many people from the middle to high income class, visit bulk billing practices to save money, but also to due to the convenience  of a ‘no appointments’ system. Other benefits include the access to various equipment and materials that are not available to private practices.

What is Private Billing?

Private billing means that patients pay the medical bill themselves or as in most cases, their private health insurance will cover all or part of the costs. It also means that there are no restrictions on what practices can charge for their medical services.

However as with many other competitive industries, practices face a lot of competition and therefore it’s not advised to charge above market rates.

What’s the Difference Between Private and Bulk Billing?

As we have learnt above, the main difference is that patients pay the medical bill themselves if they opt to visit a privately billed practice. On the contrary, in bulk billing practices, Medicare covers the costs, which means patients have no out-of-pocket expenses.

In practice, there are hardly any pure private billing practices and therefore ‘private billing’ has become synonymous with ‘mixed billing’.

What is Mixed Billing?

In Mixed billing practices, a percentage of a GP’s patients will pay a private top up on the Medicare allowance, this comes from the patient’s pocket. They will do this because it gives them more choice as to whom they see, when they visit, for how long, and very importantly, because they can afford it!

Does this mean a mixed billing practice is a nicer or better place to work? Much will depend on the way a GP likes to work but here are some facts and trends to take into account when thinking through your preferences:

  • In all mixed billing practices, a percentage of the patient base will be bulk billing – children, the elderly and patients on some form of government support. In some cases, the percentage of privately paying patients at a mixed billing practice can be very small indeed and the differences to a bulk billing practice marginal.
  • Not all bulk billing practices are in lower socio-economic areas. Indeed, many bulk billing practices offering a ‘no appointment’ system frequently attract affluent patients who will use the practice because it is convenient and they don’t need to wait for an appointment.
  • Mixed billing doctors will often see more of the ‘worried well’, whereas bulk billing doctors frequently experience a wider variety of work and more interesting challenges.
  • Many of the bulk billing practices we have on our books are large, well-funded practices, extremely well presented, and with state of the art equipment. As such, they offer GPs the resources to diagnose a range of illnesses more quickly. They can be very desirable and rewarding places to work.
  • There is a growing trend for patients across the demographic spectrum to use bulk billing doctors. Australia is still a lucky and wealthy country but in a time of decreased economic certainty, bulk billing practices are thriving and will continue to offer good opportunities for new GPs to develop a sound patient base.
  • On the question of earnings, it is a myth that mixed billing doctors earn more than bulk billing doctors.

Final Words in the Bulk vs Mixed Billing Debate

In the final analysis each job opportunity needs to be evaluated on its own merits, not whether it is mixed or bulk billing. At Alecto we have an excellent list of Sydney GP jobs and any other city for that matter. Those opportunities are both mixed and bulk billing, and because we understand how important it is for you to get the right job we will talk you through the relative strengths of each job and help you understand which opportunity will suit you best. We will never tell you mixed or bulk billing is best!

If you would like to talk about our jobs and your working preferences please contact Martina, Director at martina.stanley@alecto.com.au or +61 0403 444 764

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