Updated: Jul 13, 2021
What is Bulk Billing?
Many doctors, allied health and alternative medicine practitioners offer Bulk Billed Services. Bulk Billing means that you don't need to pay anything for the cost of your appointment with the clinic. Rather than paying a fee for your visit and then seeking a rebate from Medicare, your practitioner bills Medicare directly, leaving you with no out of pocket expenses. These aren't free sessions - the practitioner is getting paid and you're still getting treatment, it's just that the government foots the bill for the session so you can still get better without worrying about the cost. Your tax dollars at work, right?
Bulk Billing is offered at the discretion of the individual doctor or medical practice, but you always need to be enrolled in Medicare in order to access bulk billed services. Medicare is the public health system by which the federal government provides subsidised and sometimes free healthcare to Australian residents and other eligible individuals. Medicare pays some or all of the cost of an appointment, and remember, when medicare pays all of the appointment cost, that's what we call Bulk Billing.
The amount that Medicare pays towards any session is called the Medicare rebate, and it works the same as if you paid for your appointment through your private insurance. The distinction is that in this case, instead of an insurance company paying a chunk of your bill, it's the government who does the heavy lifting.
How is Physiotherapy Bulk Billed?
While you may have previously used Medicare to help with the cost of doctors' appointments, hospital stays, and the price of medication, Medicare can also be used to help pay for the price of physiotherapy appointments. The most important thing to remember is this:
You need a referral from a doctor to be able to use bulk bill physio.
This is because even though physiotherapists are primary-contact practitioners, the law states that access to physio services under Medicare is determined by referring doctors like GPs. This is to make sure that a patient's care is always co-ordinated by a medical practitioner and a nursing team, and that physiotherapy can play a part if needed.
This means that if you know you want to get bulk billed physio, you need to speak to your doctor about it, and specifically ask for a referral to physiotherapy. Your doctor will then write up a referral as part of a Chronic Disease Management program (previously called the Enhanced Primary Care program,) and give it to you so you can contact the physio and make an appointment with them to get your sessions scheduled. Once you've made your appointment, you can attend and access bulk billed services at no out of pocket expense to yourself. However, there is an important thing to remember:
You only have five bulk-billed sessions a year, regardless of what you use them on.
If you take a look at the bottom of the referral form, you'll see three columns, with four or five health professions in each. Your five sessions need to be spread over these thirteen professions, and they only refill at the start of the year. This means that if you have a referral for four physiotherapy sessions and one podiatry session, you've used all your bulk billing entitlement for the year, and need to wait until next year to access it again.
This means that you only have five opportunities to claim Medicare rebates for sessions during the course of a year. If your problem is complex and requires additional treatment, you will need to discuss ongoing payment with your treating clinician.
How does Atlas Physio do Bulk Billing?
At Atlas Physio, we're happy to provide Bulk Billed physiotherapy for eligible patients. We charge no gap, no reporting fees, no overheads, and no extras for patients with a valid medicare referral. If we did, we couldn't call ourselves Bulk Billing! The schedule of fees published by Medicare specifies the maximum amount paid for in an appointment. Atlas Physio WILL NOT charge you more than this rate for a standard consultation. If you present without a referral, you will still need to pay for the regular cost of an appointment, so make sure you have your paperwork handy!
When you access Bulk Billing physiotherapy with us, we'll treat you exactly as well as we treat someone who's paying cash or with private health. Some physiotherapy clinics have Bulk Billed and community care clients seen to by junior physiotherapists, so that the overhead of the referral is reduced. We don't do that at our clinic. All of our clients are entitled to the same high-standard, effective, and personalised care. We don't discriminate between people who need help.
Why Bulk Bill?
As we've seen, Bulk Billing means that healthcare is accessible for people who don't make much money, who are unemployed, on pensions or who can't stump up the cost of a private appointment. Bulk Billing through Medicare increases the ability of people to access health, by minimising or removing the financial hurdle that might otherwise keep you away from the clinic. This is because Health is a human right, as defined by the United Nations, the World Health Organisation, and the constitutions of many countries around the world. If Health is a human right, then access to services that support and maintain the health of an individual is a human right as well - you cannot be healthy without access to professional help in times of sickness.
The ability to Bulk Bill through Medicare is the Australian Government's measure taken to ensure that vulnerable members of our society who need help are able to access it. Medicare itself was first established in 1975 as Medibank, to expand healthcare to members of the public who were not able to access health through Friendly Societies or Public Trusts, and has been revised many times since its implementation. Medicare as we know it today was instated by the Hawke government in 1984. It has since been used as a model for other programs of socialised medicine both locally and abroad.
The existence of Medicare is a step towards universal free health care, and this is important to ensure not only that those who need health can access it, but that they can access it for free.
At Atlas Physio, we are committed to accessible health care, and this means that we offer no-gap Bulk Billing services for those members of our community who need it.