You may have received a text or email in recent weeks from your GP asking you to sign up for something called MyMedicare.
The program promises to “formalize” the relationship you have with your doctor and give you access to more Medicare benefits.
Some clinics already offer special benefits exclusively to registered patients.
So, what is this program and is it worth signing up for?
What is MyMedicare?
It’s a free, voluntary patient registration program launched two weeks ago by the federal government as part of a broader commitment to strengthen Medicare.
It allows you to register as a patient of the clinic of your choice and select your preferred GP.
However, this will only work if your clinic is also enrolled in the program.
In short, this gives you access to additional Medicare discounts (and bulk billing for some) and in return, your GP clinic will receive more money from the federal government.
It is important to note that if you attend a clinic with multiple doctors, you can see any GP at that clinic (even if they are not the “chosen” doctor) and receive the same benefits.
MyMedicare is open to all Australians with a Medicare card or Department of Veterans Affairs card and you are eligible if you have had at least two in-person appointments at your usual practice in the last two years ( or one (in-person visit for practices located in remote locations).
People facing hardship, such as domestic violence or homelessness, will be exempt from the face-to-face appointment requirement, but the government has not clarified how someone proves hardship.
MyMedicare is separate from My Health Record (the online summary of your health information), so it will not contain any of your clinical information, only your usual GP details.
What do I get?
The main benefit of signing up right now is access to Medicare discounts for longer telehealth visits.
Last year, the government removed discounts for telehealth appointments lasting more than 20 minutes (known as Level C) and more than 40 minutes (Level D).
But if you sign up through MyMedicare, you’ll have access to discounts again.
The cost charged by each GP for such appointments differs significantly depending on location, but on average this means that Medicare will cover around half of the consultation costs.
The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) says it is often the most vulnerable in society who benefit most from lengthy telehealth consultations, for example people seeking mental health support or those living in rural areas and isolated.
Additionally, your GP will soon be incentivized by the government to bulk bill some patients registered via MyMedicare for lengthy telehealth appointments.
From November 1, doctors will receive triple the bonus they normally receive if they bulk bill children under 16, retirees and discount card holders for these consultations.
How to register
You can do this in your Medicare online account, on the Medicare app, or in person at your preferred clinic.
What happens if I don’t register?
Nothing, you will simply continue to access the same care from your doctor as currently.
Other benefits from next year
MyMedicare will be rolled out gradually over three years so that more benefits come into effect later.
Details are still being worked out, but from mid-2024 two more incentives will be available.
One of them is the Aged Care Incentive, which allows doctors to pay to make regular visits to patients registered on MyMedicare in aged care facilities.
The Ministry of Health indicates that the exact amount of the bonus will be finalized in the coming months.
The other incentive is for people with complex chronic illness who are frequent hospital users — this is the frequent hospital user incentive.
Basically, doctors will receive a bonus (the value of which is still unknown) for providing comprehensive, multidisciplinary care to these patients in the community, thereby reducing their hospital visits.
It is estimated that around one in five Australians have two or more chronic conditions.
Can I only go to the clinic I register with?
No, selecting a particular clinic and preferred doctor does not prevent you from making an appointment elsewhere.
But you will only be able to access the benefits of the MyMedicare program at your registered practice.
You are also not limited to the preferred practice or GP you initially registered with, as these can be changed at any time.
But if you change clinics, you’ll need to attend two in-person appointments before your telehealth benefits take effect (unless exemptions apply to you).
Things to consider
The government says MyMedicare will encourage people to stick to one GP, which can lead to better health outcomes.
This argument in favor of continuity of care is something that is supported by research.
But Elizabeth Deveny, CEO of the Consumers Health Forum, says that doesn’t account for people who see multiple providers for different needs.
This may be due to expertise in different practices, convenience, or cultural reasons. For example, your local GP may be male and, as a woman, you would like to see a female GP for some specific problems.
There are also concerns that MyMedicare patients receive preferential treatment.
One of Australia’s largest medical center operators is promising priority appointments for MyMedicare patients.
On its website, the provider indicates that it will book appointments specifically for those who have registered. They also offer free flu shots and state that bulk billed visits may be available to all MyMedicare patients.
Dr. Deveny says putting patients first challenges the idea of universal care.
“If a registered person is prioritized for appointments, I think that’s really tricky, because what happens if other people who need appointments are sicker?” she says.
“I don’t think it’s unreasonable for people to ask, ‘If I have to be registered to get things, is that universal?'”
The government has not offered any guidance to GPs on prioritization, so it will be up to each clinic to decide, says Dr Deveny.
“Variation is not a bad thing, but unfair or unwarranted variation is a problem.”
However, a Department of Health spokesperson said the program was not intended to create a hierarchy of patients.
“It is not MyMedicare’s intention for general practices to prioritize MyMedicare patients,” the spokesperson said.
The Australian Patients Association (APA) strongly supports MyMedicare and believes it strengthens the primary care system.
APA CEO David Clarke says patients, particularly those who are more disadvantaged, should seriously consider signing up as the program offers real relief.
“It’s pushing practices toward bulk billing, which we think is really good, because we’re really concerned about the number of practices that are moving away from bulk billing lately,” he says.
RACGP President Nicole Higgins says she is optimistic about what MyMedicare can offer patients, particularly those with complex and chronic conditions who benefit from a long-term relationship with their regular GP.
“Patients with chronic conditions should consider registering with their GP.”
Why is the government doing this?
A Department of Health spokesperson said MyMedicare will enable the provision of targeted funding, so that people who need care most get it.
Dr. Deveny says the program is designed to manage costs.
“Medicare is not capped, so if you offer wonderful things for all kinds of reasons, some people will overuse them,” she says.
The health spokesperson says MyMedicare is also responding to complaints from GPs about the removal of funding for longer telehealth appointments, while implementing some of the recommendations of the Strengthening Medicare Task Force (which reported to the government last year).
“(The) recommendation (was) to support general practice in the management of complex and chronic conditions through blended funding models alongside fee-for-service, with funding for longer consultations and incentives that promote quality care packages for the people who need it most.”
The government says it will continue to consult with stakeholders in the primary care sector, including the RACGP and the Australian Medical Association, as the program unfolds so that feedback can be taken into account.
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