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News & Trends - MedTech & Diagnostics

$2.2B package to address primary care needs and hospital pressures, but consumers raise concerns over affordability of health services

Health Industry Hub | May 1, 2023 |

MedTech & Diagnostics News: Ahead of the May Budget, the National Cabinet has unveiled a $2.2 billion package of measures to address immediate primary care needs, take pressure off the hospital system, and lay the foundations for long term Medicare reform. It comes as the latest public hospital report card found performance at its lowest level ever.

The announcement has been welcomed by the Australian Medical Association (AMA) and the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) as a step in the right direction in relieving the strain on the entire health system. This funding is more than was promised when the government set up the Strengthening Medicare Taskforce.

However, the nation’s leading health consumer peak body, Consumers Health Forum (CHF), believes Australia’s primary health system is in danger of becoming privatised ‘by stealth’.

“It’s becoming a situation of ‘cash for care’ where only people who can afford out-of-pocket costs can access timely services such as visiting a GP, getting a script or seeing a psychologist,” CHF CEO Dr Elizabeth Deveny said.

Patients who are not bulk billed now pay on average $45 out of pocket when they see a GP. This is up 20% in real terms over the past decade, according to the Grattan Institute.

Dr Deveny added “Increasingly, we are seeing private profit-driven companies move into primary health to provide these services – whether that is corporate-style GP chains replacing the traditional local GP, or even retailers like Woolies who are now promoting telehealth services. We are moving towards an American-style two-tier system where only the rich can pay for fast care and we’re moving away from the basics of universal healthcare which Australians really value.”

Deputy Liberal leader Sussan Ley said the government was failing to address the “collapse” in bulk-billing rates.

“We do need to have our healthcare system back where it was under the coalition,” she said.

The $2.2 billion package includes measures to support the healthcare workforce to work at top of scope, expand the nursing workforce, improve access to after-hours primary care, introduce My Medicare (patient ID) to support wrap around care, provide flexible funding for multi-disciplinary teams, and invest in digital health to improve health outcomes and reduce the need to present at emergency departments.

Almost 1500 people have signed CHF’s petition calling on the government to listen to consumers and give them a real voice in the Strengthening Medicare reforms.

“The voices of consumers are being drowned out because all we’ve heard in the lead-up to the Federal budget is the doctor and pharmacy lobby groups battling it out in a professional turf war. Australians loved Medicare when it was introduced by Labor in 1983 but cracks started to appear over the next decade. Thirty years on little has been done by successive governments. We’re well overdue for real healthcare reform and we look forward to Health Minister Mark Butler taking action in the May budget,” Dr Deveny said.

The AMA has also emphasised that any new funding models in general practice should build on existing fee-for-service arrangements and reject any moves to UK-style capitation. The AMA will work closely with the government to finalise the details of My Medicare, as well as plans to improve access to after-hours GP services, GP services in aged care, and the expansion of multidisciplinary care.

“This new funding program enabling practices to open longer hours will mean fewer people turning up in crowded emergency departments seeking help for health concerns that could and should have been managed by a GP,” said RACGP President Dr Nicole Higgins.

“The proposed National Scope of Practice Review will also be an important opportunity to discuss why states and territories have bypassed agreed national processes as well as Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) scheduling decisions with respect to pharmacist prescribing,” AMA President, Professor Steve Robson noted.

In support of AMA’s position on expanding pharmacists’ scope of practice, Dr Higgins said “We must be careful not to fragment care because the last thing we want is the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing, and that is exactly what can happen if pharmacists and GPs are both performing functions such as prescribing medications and delivering vaccines.”

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese declared health “as the priority for National Cabinet in 2023” and confirmed “a special meeting of National Cabinet in the fourth quarter to discuss further health reform.”

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