Local medical practices stand to lose tens of thousands of dollars and the most vulnerable of their patients will be out of pocket, when Federal Government changes to the Medicare rebate come into effect on Monday.
Bulk billing for health care card holders and pensioners will be reduced from $9.50 to $6.40 per patient after Maitland practices were reclassified from rural to the same classification as Sydney CBD.
Newcastle, Maitland, Kurri Kurri and Raymond Terrace are classified as metropolitan areas, but up until this year had an exemption to access the rural incentive.
The changes will severely affect businesses like Rutherford Family Medical Practice (RFMP) with 65% of its patients either on health care cards or pension cards.
RFMP's Dr Jake Alexander said this roughly equates to about $1500 per week or close to $80,000 per annum in lost revenue once the changes are made.
"This is huge for any small business operating," he said.
The changes have angered Aberglasslyn pensioner Neil Noonan.
Mr Noonan had to cut short his working life because of health issues.
He said the Medicare rebate will be a drain on pensioners. "There will be a lot of sad people - some who have to see doctors five days a week," he said.
He has been lobbying local Labor politicians for their support. "I'm for the worker and what the government is doing is not right," he said.
"There are a lot of local people with disabilities and it's tough for them already and if we don't speak up about this now it will affect generations to come."
Dr Alexander said doctors' hands are tied. "This loss of funding together with the ongoing Medicare rebate freeze has made bulk billing in general practice in Maitland and Newcastle financially unsustainable.
"Our practice, as well as most of the other practices in the region, have been forced to move from universal bulk billing to private billing to accommodate for this loss in revenue.
"Unfortunately it is the financially disadvantaged, and chronically unwell, who make up a greater portion of our patient base, who are going to suffer the most," Dr Alexander said.
Bulk-billing is when the doctor accepts the Medicare benefit (that's 85 or 100 per cent of the schedule consultation fee) as full payment for services rendered. You don't have to pay the gap. Normally, if you are bulk-billed, your Medicare card will be swiped and you sign a form.