In a blow to student healthcare options, Hobart Place General Practice yesterday announced its closure, effective from 30 April 2023. The practice cited a lack of available staff and “the erosion in value of the Medicare rebate” as contributing factors to the closure.
Historically, many ANU students have used the clinic for healthcare services, as it offered bulk-billing and discounted appointments with a small number of practitioners. With the privatisation of the ANU Medical Clinic, students will likely have no bulk-billing options within walking distance of the university in the future. The ANU Medical Clinic does bulk-bill at the moment, but the future of the practice is unclear.
The closure notice emphasised the role of government policy, citing not only Medicare, specifically the lack of indexation of clinic rebates, but also issues in GP registrar placement rules. The notice also provides patients of the clinic with resources to contact their local politicians.
Bulk-billing services are integral to the provision of healthcare to low-income groups such as students, as they are entirely free of cost. There is no limit on how much GPs can charge for non bulk-billed appointments, but Medicare will provide a rebate of up to $39.75.
Issues with Medicare including incentivising patient quantity over holistic care, and incorrect billing of chronically ill patients, have dominated news headlines recently. Last year, then Minister for Health Mark Butler labelled Medicare as in the “worst shape” since it began in 1975. Additionally, Canberra is the federal electorate with the lowest rate of GP practices offering bulk-billing sessions, with GP closures worsening the crisis.
Most of the doctors working at Hobart Place will move out to East Canberra General Practice, in Majura Park. It is unclear what fees they will now charge.
Resources are still available for students seeking to access healthcare. Services Australia offers the Low Income Healthcare Card, which lowers the safety net for individuals, meaning patients receive a greater rebate on healthcare after spending $770 in a year.
Update: This article was updated to reflect that ANU Medical Centre does currently bulk-bill students.
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