AAP FactCheck

Restoring confidence in public statements by independently testing and verifying the facts

Are bulk-billing rates in Australia at their highest level?

By James Lane, Tiffanie Turnbull and Brian Kelly

The Statement

"Bulk-billing rates today are at their highest level."

Prime Minister Scott Morrison. April 11, 2019.

The Analysis

Prime Minister Scott Morrison claims that bulk-billing rates are at their highest level in Australia. [1]

AAP FactCheck examined the prime minister’s statement and checked his claim against Department of Health figures.

Bulk-billing is defined as when a doctor bills Medicare directly and accepts the Medicare benefit as full payment for their service. This means the patient is left with no out-of-pocket expenses. [2]

The percentage of Medicare-funded consultations that are bulk-billed is referred to as the bulk-billing rate. [3]

The Department of Health annual statistics show the bulk billing rate nationally for non-referred GP visits was 55.8 per cent in 1984-85, when Medicare started. The rate hit 86.1 per cent in 2017-18 - the highest level on record.

According to the department, patients accessed almost 155 million GP services in 2017-18, at a cost in Medicare benefits of $7.8 billion. This compares to 149 million services in 2016-17 at a cost of $7.5 billion in Medicare benefits - an increase of 4.9 per cent in service volumes and an increase in benefits of 5.5 per cent.

Annual figures for overall Medicare claims also hit a record high in 2017-18 reaching 78.9 per cent.

The department’s figures showed the volume of total Medicare services in 2017-18 was 414.3 million services, at a cost of $23.2 billion in Medicare benefits. This compares to 394.3 million services 2016-17, at a cost of $22 billion in Medicare benefits - an increase of 5.9 per cent in service volumes and an increase in benefits of 6.3 per cent. [4]

However the bulk-billing rate for specialist services was not a record. In 2017-18 the rate nationally was at 31.1 per cent which was lower than a peak of 32.5 per cent in 1995-96.

AAP FactCheck concludes that based on the annual statistics Mr Morrison’s claim is mostly true.

The Verdict

  • Mostly True - Mostly accurate, but there is a minor error or problem.

The References

1: ‘The Prime Minister is announcing the date of the federal election’. SBS. April 11, 2019: https://twitter.com/SBSNews/status/1116097343407812608

2: ‘Department of Human Services. Medicare Bulk Billing’. May 12, 2018: https://www.humanservices.gov.au/individuals/services/medicare/medicare-bulk-billing

3: ‘Are bulk-billing rates falling, or at record levels?’ By Thomas Longden and Kees Van Gool. The Conversation. February 10, 2017: https://theconversation.com/factcheck-are-bulk-billing-rates-falling-or-at-record-levels-72278

4: ‘Annual Medicare statistics - Financial Year 1984-85 to 2017-18’ (Table 1.1 Summary Statistics by Broad Type of Service and Medicare Statistics Bulk Billing Rate % by state/territory, Broad Type of Service and financial year from 1984-85 to 2017-18). The Department of Health. Australian Government. August 2018: http://www.health.gov.au/internet/main/publishing.nsf/Content/Annual-Medicare-Statistics

Revision History

  • First published April 11, 2019 16:39 AEST