Bulk billing for Students at Uni Health Practice May Only be Temporary

Words by Grace Atta

Better Medical, private owner of the University Health Practice, has stated their move to keep bulk billing for students may only be temporary, depending on the outcome of consultation with the University.

Description: A Uni Health Practice feather flag with the number of the clinic and words ‘Students Bulk Billed (subject to eligibility)’ written on it. This sits in front of a University building background. Source: University Health Practice (Better Medical) Website

‘We have decided to postpone the decision about charging a gap to Medicare-eligible University of Adelaide students pending further discussions with the University and other stakeholders,’’ says a Better Medical spokesperson.

In mid-July it was announced that the University Health Practice would be charging gap fees to students as of August 1.

The new fees listed for University of Adelaide students with a valid Medicare card included a $11.75 gap for a standard consult, $14.85 for a long consult and $17.20 for an extended consult.

After advocacy from student factions, representatives, and intervention from the University it was announced a week into August that bulk billing would be brought back for students with a valid Medicare card.

On Dit contacted Better Medical regarding their quick change in policy, to ask about their intentions for the future.

A spokesperson from Better Medical stated that the organisation will ensure the practice ‘remains a sustainable, high-quality health destination’.

They also said that any future decision to introduce gap fees will come following ‘full consultation and collaboration’ with the University of Adelaide and the practice’s doctors.

Dr. Paul Bolton, a GP at the University Health Practice, wrote in a statement to On Dit that bulk billing has become ‘unsustainable in most parts of the country’ with Medicare rebates not meeting the operating costs.

In review of the figures for 2022, it is known that the Medicare rebates have only increased by 1.6% despite the highly reported inflation rate sitting at 6.1% in June of this year.

Dr. Bolton says that the University Health Practice is ‘not immune’ to this situation and that they also ‘struggle’ to recruit GPs because the income is lower at the practice compared to other city clinics.

‘The concept of charging students a nominal $11.75 gap — which, it should be noted, is a 75% discount on the recommended gap fee — was designed as a way to try to create a better balance between the sustainability of University Health Practice and the need to keep services as affordable as possible.’ says Dr. Bolton.

However, the introduction of fees came as quite a shock to the University community, with the clinic historically being a free (bulk billing) service for students, as part of Adelaide UniCare, owned by the University up until June of last year.

Additionally, at the time of purchase, Better Medical confirmed to On Dit that they would continue to offer the University Health Practice’s long-standing bulk billing service to all students with a valid Medicare card.

Description: On the left-side there is an ‘Adelaide unicare’ logo which has a circle of dots to the left of the text. On the right is the Better Medical logo, which includes two horizontal green lines and two vertical blue lines.

When news of the gap fees at the practice was shared on social media in July, countless students commented that they have, and continue to rely on the bulk billing service due to financial difficulties.

When asked on their view on the historical context of Uni Clinics to provide for underprivileged patients, Better Medical stated that they understood this ‘has been an important provision for the local communities’ but that operating in such a manner is ‘not sustainable’.

Notably, this speaks to the clinic’s switch from offering a significant not-for-profit service to a private business upon purchase from the University.

Despite this, Dr. Bolton says that the ‘issue here is not greed from the practice — it is inadequate funding of your Medicare rebate over many years by Government’.

Better Medical has also stated they are ‘actively engaging with the Federal Government’ to advocate for changes to the Primary Care sector that ensures ‘better access for all Australians’, and that they encourage people to contact their local Member of Parliament.

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On Dit Magazine

Adelaide University student magazine since 1932. Edited by Grace Atta, Jenny Jung & Chanel Trezise. Get in touch: onditmag@gmail.com