The September 2002 quarter statistics show a sharp decrease in GP bulk billing rates of 2.7 per cent from last quarter to 71.2 per cent - the lowest level since 1990-91.
This fall of 2.7 per cent is the largest ever quarterly fall since bulk billing began - the previous largest was a 1 per cent fall in December 1997. Bulk billing has fallen from a peak of 80.6 per cent in June 1997.
On an annual basis, this would translate to almost 11 million fewer GP consultations being bulk billed.
Dr Phelps said the Medicare patient rebate is no longer the benchmark for the value of accessible affordable quality health care for all Australians.
"The continuing rapid decline in bulk billing is a major contributor to GP shortages, especially in regional and outer-urban Australia," Dr Phelps said.
"Patients now expect to pay a co-payment when they visit the doctor. They know that their GPs must cover costs if they are to continue serving neighbourhoods and communities.
"They also know that Medicare is failing to keep up with the cost and complexity of contemporary medicine and they want the Government to do something to fix the health system so they can keep their local doctors in their towns and suburbs.
"While the AMA supports doctors charging a co-payment above the Medicare rebate - because they have to stay in practice - we recognise that a safety net is needed to ensure access to health care for the needy, the disadvantaged, the elderly, low income families, and the chronically ill.
"The Medicare patient rebate is clearly inadequate. Bulk billing is now an issue between patients and the Government. Doctors can no longer continue to subsidise Medicare.
"Both the Government and the Opposition must enunciate their policy on Medicare - do they want it to survive or do they want it to further erode through neglect?
"The Government must tell patients - voters - their plans for Medicare," Dr Phelps said.
Attached is a graph depicting the latest collapse in GP bulk billing.
CONTACT: John Flannery (02) 6270 5477 / (0419) 494 761