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News & Trends - MedTech & Diagnostics

Budget fails to tackle health system issues and surge in surgery waitlists

Health Industry Hub | May 14, 2024 |

MedTech & Diagnostics News: The federal government, together with the states and territories, have not detailed how they would tackle the blowout in planned surgery waitlists in public hospitals.

“Just weeks ago, we released a report showing planned surgery wait times in our public hospitals are now the longest on record, and emergency departments remain strangled by access block,” said Australian Medical Association (AMA) President Professor Steve Robson.

In a bid to tackle the mounting backlog in planned surgeries, the AMA has urged the health ministers to endorse a $4.12 billion plan, jointly funded by the commonwealth and the states/territories, aimed at alleviating the immediate strain on surgical services while a new National Hospital Funding Agreement (NHRA) is being negotiated.

Federal Health Minister Mark Butler acknowledged the strain on the public hospital system, intensified by the COVID pandemic. However, he challenged the notion that additional funding would improve the current state of affairs.

Professor Robson added, “The additional investment through the next hospital agreement is very welcome but we have hundreds and thousands of Australians waiting in pain for planned surgery. Unless the Commonwealth and the state and territories come up with a funded plan to address this, patients will continue to suffer, with their conditions getting worse, their quality of life significantly impacted and the long-term cost to the health system being higher.”

Budget 2024-25 Health Portfolio

Analysis of the Budget papers reveals that only two components of the health portfolio – the Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) and public hospital funding – are experiencing growth rates surpassing the threshold required to keep pace with inflation and population growth.

“This is the eyewatering cost of tinkering around the edges of our current system. Expenditure will continue to escalate when there is an absence of spending for the long-term reform the health system needs”, said Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association (AHHA) Chief Executive, Kylie Woolcock.

“In contrast with last year’s Budget, where a raft of Medicare reforms in general practice and primary care were announced as measures to relieve the pressure on hospitals, this Budget directs funding to the states and territories to support earlier discharge from hospital,” she added.

Reform is also needed in the private health insurance sector, with the increased cost-of-living and perceived lack of value in insurance, potentially leading to people dropping insurance and putting further strain on the public hospital system.

“Patients are being hit with rising private health insurance bills as their providers funnel significantly more money into management expenses, dwarfing any increase in rebates and benefits,” Professor Robson said.

“We need a ‘value mandate for private health insurers to return a minimum 90%, on average, of premium dollars paid each year back to the consumer in the form of rebates and benefits. And we need an independent Private Health Insurance Authority to ensure the system is fair and balances everyone’s interests.”

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