The chief executive officer of Ballarat Community Health has said rising GP fees are a source of "deep concern". It comes after local federal representative Catherine King highlighted new data that showed out-of-pocket costs for GP visits in Ballarat had increased by 37 per cent since 2012/13. Sean Duffy, the CEO of Ballarat Community Health, told The Courier the increase was troubling. "It deeply concerns us as a community health organisation because, first and foremost, we want to make sure that primary health care is affordable," he said. "The Medicare benefits rate is not keeping up with the cost of service delivery. "It probably explains why primary care services are increasing the cost - the gap does exist ...and that gap is growing. I think we need to call it out and encourage debate on the issue." He said he was also concerned people might make a choice not to see their GP due to costs. "If people are less out of pocket, [they] access health care earlier," he said. "They access health care for the right reasons at the right time and therefore we increase the chances of people not going on to develop chronic disease." He stressed that GPs at Ballarat Community Health would continue to offer bulk billing services and work to keep primary care "as affordable as possible." His remarks followed sharp criticism of the Coalition from Catherine King, who highlighted the leap in out-of-pocket costs. Data released last month by the Department of Health shows the cost of seeing a GP in Ballarat is among the highest in regional Victoria. Patients in Ballarat paid an average out-of-pocket fee of $36.96 to see a GP in 2018/19, an increase of $10.04 or 37% since 2012/13. The data also showed a sharp spike in the fees to see specialists, with people in Ballarat paying an average of $71.61, a 53 per cent increase since the Coalition came to power. Figures said only 25.1 per cent of those seeing specialists in Ballarat had all their costs covered by bulk billing, compared to 60.5 per cent of people seeing a GP. Ms King, the former shadow health minister, called the figures a "damning indictment" of the Coalition's record. "Members of our community are being slugged more and more to see a doctor," she said. "These price rises are making it harder and harder for Ballarat residents to get medical help when they need it." A spokesperson for the Coalition's health minister Greg Hunt responded that bulk billing levels were four per cent higher under the current Government than they were under Labor. "It was Labor that introduced the [Medicare] freeze because they couldn't manage the budget. It was the Coalition that removed the freeze," they said. The spokesperson also said the government had made "significant investments" to support Medicare and reduce patient costs. Annual doctor payments had risen from $19 billion under Labor to $26 billion under the Coalition, they said. Have you signed up to The Courier's daily newsletter and breaking news emails? You can register below and make sure you are up to date with everything that's happening in Ballarat.