Veterans to receive better access to a GP

Minister for Veterans’ Affairs the Hon Matt Keogh MP announced that it will be easier for more than 276,000 Australian veterans to access a GP.

From 1 November 2023, in line with the tripling of the bill billing incentive, the Albanese Government has invested $33.3 million to triple the Veteran Access Payment (VAP) for certain GP services.

The VAP is an incentive payment GP’s receive, in addition to the Medicare rebate, when treating veterans who hold a DVA Gold or White Card.

The tripling of this payment will help to ensure GPs continue to service veterans with no out of pocket costs.

These changes will see payment for a GP consultation of up to 20 minutes (Level B) increase by more than $16 in metropolitan areas and more than $31 in the most remote areas of Australia.

Payments apply to general face-to-face and telehealth GP consultations, including home visits for people who are homebound, and consultations in residential aged-care facilities.

In an effort to further reduce the burden on medical practitioners, a review is currently underway to simplify and consolidate the Department of Veterans’ Affairs forms that medical professionals are required to complete.

The first package of the 19 most frequently used forms has been consolidated down to 7, while a process is underway to significantly reduce the remaining 54 forms by mid-2024.

This measure will incentivise GPs to treat the more than 276,000 veterans and eligible dependents who hold Veteran White or Gold Cards.

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Transcript from the Hon Minister for Veterans Affairs’ Matt Keogh MP's press conference at Armadale, WA

Wednesday, 1 November 2023

Bulk billing increase and tripling of the Veteran Access Payment

MATT KEOGH, MINISTER FOR VETERANS AFFAIRS: From today [1 November 2023] we are increasing the benefits and supports to GPs to better support patients in getting access to bulk billing, and our veterans in getting access to GPs. So from today, the GP bulk billing incentive payment will be tripled. That's an important benefit. Because what we have seen across the country is so many people saying that they sometimes have difficulty being able to access a bulk billed doctor. So from today, tripling that incentive payment to better support GPs and their practices, and being able to provide the health care that people need is an incredibly important benefit. In fact, this is the largest investment in the Medicare system in four decades. And it will mean that for kids under 16, people on concession cards, older Australians will be able to attract this additional incentive payment. So that GPs are in a better position to bulk bill them.

And when it comes to our veterans from today, as well, we're tripling the Veteran Access Payment. And that will mean that GPs are better supported to continue to provide, with no gap fee, medical services to our veterans on a Gold Card, or a White Card. So this tripling of the Veterans Access Payment will benefit 276,000 veterans across Australia. That's in addition to the changes we've made to simplify administration for our Doctors, reducing the paperwork burden on them, when they're providing reports to DVA,  tripling the Veterans Access Payment will mean that GPs and their practices are better supported by Government so they can continue to provide the medical services that our veterans need and deserve.

And when it comes to communities like this, in Armadale, in my electorate of Burt, the tripling of the Medicare bulk billing incentive, will benefit over 90,500 people. That means over 1,165 million Western Australians will be able to benefit from this increase in payments to GPs to support bulk billing. And that will mean that 11.6 million people nationally are going to benefit. So this biggest ever investment in Medicare in four decades, by the Albanese Government, is going to improve health care, improve access to bulk billing, improve access to doctors, by veterans across the country. And it's great to see that all starting from today. 

I'm now going to hand over to Ramya, who's one of our local GPs here in Armadale, but also Chair of the RACGP WA.


DR RAMYA RAMAN, CHAIR, RACGP WA: Thank you, Minister. This is certainly a welcome measure from the Government. On behalf of the RACGP we are very much thankful for hearing what is well needed for the injection into the Medicare on behalf of GPs. As the Minister already mentioned, the current tripling of the bulk billing incentive will mean that there is incentivisation or a top up payment for those who need it the most. So children less than 16 years of age, pensioners and concession card holders. It enables patients to have better access, and at the end of the day, as a practicing GP, it is our patients that matter the most. And we want to keep patients out of hospitals and reduce them going on to the Emergency Department. So the discretion of this will lie on the General Practitioner, but it is certainly a very much first step towards what's needed into the injection into Medicare.

Our rural colleagues are very happy with this as well, WA being a very large state, many of our rural practitioners, General Practitioners, work in the community as well as in the hospital. What this means is that patients will have more equitable access and bettering their health outcomes overall. The Veteran Access Payment is also a very welcome measure for those who are needing it the most. Our veterans do have complex health needs and increasing the incentivisation, or top up of payments will ultimately mean that there is a better access for them to see their GP, to have better continuity and to ensure that these patients are well looked after within the community and reducing the presentations to the Hospital. I'll now hand over to Duncan, who is the RSL Deputy President.


DUNCAN ANDERSON, DEPUTY PRESIDENT, RSL AUSTRALIA: RSL Australia is incredibly indebted to, along with many other agencies that provided a pre-budget submission to address the shortfall in our community and the RSL congratulate the Government for listening, taking this important first step. Just like to highlight this although an important first step and a significant investment, the continued support for over 580,000 veterans remains our core focus. We look forward to working in partnership with the Government to deliver for veterans in the future. I’ll hand back to the Minister for questions.

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JOURNALIST: Can you please explain these difficulties?

MINISTER KEOGH: So we've seen across the community, people have identified it is harder and harder to get access to a bulk billed GP service. And that differs from area to area. We're really fortunate in this community here that over 80% of the GPs practicing, in this part of Perth, do provide bulk billing services to at least some patients. But that's not the case, across the state or across the country. And so making sure that we can support GPs to be able to provide more bulk billing services, especially to those who most need it. So our under 16’s, our elderly, those on concession cards is really important.

We've also seen across the country veterans saying that they have found that some GPs have withdrawn service, because they're concerned about not being able to charge a gap. And that's an important part about how we support our veterans on a Gold Card or a White Card when they go to see a doctor, the doctor can't charge a gap, we pay GPs more, to make sure that we provide that important health service to veterans. So tripling the Veteran Access Payment, means GPs will receive even more again to make sure that they can continue to service our veterans, and do that in a way that's financially viable to their practices. This is about meeting the cost of living needs for patients, so they get the health care they need, and the cost pressures that are on our medical practices as well. So they can continue to provide high quality health care, not just in metro areas, but high quality health care across the country. 


JOURNALIST: Are you seeing increasing numbers of veterans who need these services?

MINISTER KEOGH: Well, certainly, we now have 581,000 veterans across the country. 276,000 of them have either a Gold Card or a White Card, which entitles them to access to certain medical services for the Department of Veterans’ Affairs. And those numbers are increasing, because every day we have people signing up to join our Defence Force. And we're really happy to see that, we want to see more of that. And what we say to them is we will make sure that they're looked after when they leave the Defence Force as well. And that's why they get access to these White Cards or Gold Cards. So that any conditions that they may obtain through their service to our nation, are looked after. And the Veteran Access Payment tripling that starts from today ensures that we're continuing to be able to provide that service that they don't just need, but frankly, they deserve.


JOURNALIST: [inaudible] will there be a cost for them?

MINISTER KEOGH: So the way that the Medicare system operates is that the Government will pay the Medicare rebate and where the patient is eligible - so under 16, or on a concession card, then we'll also pay this incentive payment. It's always up to the GP, they’re independent businesses to operate, how they choose to operate. That's an important part of our system. But it's also an important part that we've created the Medicare system to stand behind GPs to support their practices, to pay those bills, those Medicare payment schedules and also these incentive payments, so that we can see more and more of them, continue to bulk bill patients so that we can deal with those cost of living pressures and support practices to continue to provide high quality health care.


JOURNALIST: You said it was a tripling of the figure, what is that figure now?

MINISTER KEOGH: So the figure varies from metropolitan to outer regional. So it'll be going up $16 in the metropolitan areas, but going up $31 in our outer regional and remote areas, there's a schedule that sets it all out to different areas, because we recognise that the cost pressures, especially in our remote areas, Western Australia has a lot of GPs that fit into this category. They are higher cost pressures that need to be met and they've got a lot of those communities in need and they need to be serviced.


JOURNALIST: There’s a major shortage of GPs here and in the regions will this help?

DR RAMAN: Certainly, the General Practice workforce is something that we all need to be pitching into. With regards to the workforce shortages that we are seeing, we're working very hard from the College to ensure that there is a professional objective, particularly with medical students and junior doctors wanting to choose general practice as their profession. As a GP, I'm very proud and so very much of my colleagues in servicing the community and the patients that we see. And I would probably say general practice is the best profession or the specialty to choose in medicine. And of course, I'm biased towards that. But the reality of this is we need certain support systems to help with this. Of course, with the support from both Federal and State Governments, and these are steps that we are advocating for.