BULK BILLING: Barney Point couple left with few options
JULIE and Charles Palmer will be among those hardest hit by the shift away from full bulk billing for GP visits at Gladstone clinics.
The couple chose their Barney Point rental home because of its proximity to Harbour City Family Practice, which they attended regularly.
As of Thursday, because 58-year-old Julie is aged below 65, she is ineligible for bulk billing at the mixed billing practice and will be unable to afford continued visits to her local GP.
Mrs Palmer said she and her husband were disappointed when he was told about the change by his doctor, and they were further dismayed after they called clinics around Gladstone and received the same answer everywhere else.
"Charles rang about seven clinics, and they all said the same thing," she said.
"They're having trouble keeping doctors (who bulk bill) because they don't make (enough) money. It seems all the surgeries are the same."
One clinic at Kirkwood, which Mrs Palmer understood bulk billed patients with a health care card (which she holds), would take an hour to get to by public transport as neither she nor her husband drive a car.
Mrs Palmer said a trip to an out-of-town clinic which bulk billed all its patients was difficult to arrange for the same reason.
"I catch the bus or I walk, as my husband's health is deteriorating and he can no longer drive," she said.
"We're not in the financial situation for his eyes to be operated on, and there were also heart concerns... so we sold the car and bought a mobility scooter.
"If I get seriously sick I'll have to use the hospital, because I certainly can't afford to pay $50 up front, even after you get some back through Medicare."
Mrs Palmer said relying on the hospital was not just inconvenient for her - it would require either a half hour bus trip or a walk from the city centre - but would also put unnecessary strain on Gladstone Hospital's emergency department.
"It's going to up the ante on the hospital, which they are always pushing people to avoid using when you can just see the doctor," she said.
"If it's a major issue of course we can call an ambulance, but if I'm just feeling crook it's not right.
"It's putting Gladstone residents between a rock and a hard place.
"If you're throwing up they probably don't want you doing that all over the bus either."
Despite their reluctance, the Palmers are applying for a taxi subsidy scheme to ensure Mrs Palmer will be able to make it to hospital in the event she falls ill without having to rely on public transport.
Even then, it will mean they will have to keep money for a taxi aside ready to be used at any point, a cost they didn't have to cover before.
"A lot of people in Gladstone and all over Australia are either on unemployment or pensions and I think they will find it hard as well," she said.