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News & Trends - MedTech & Diagnostics

Cardiac specialists call for sustained MBS funding of heart checks in the face of GP opposition

Health Industry Hub | March 24, 2023 |

MedTech News: The number of Australians undergoing Heart Health Checks could be slashed if changes to MBS funding models go ahead.

Professor Jason Kovacic, Executive Director of the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute, said the Medicare-funded Heart Health Check item is needed more than ever with heart attacks on the rise across the country.

Medicare-funded Heart Health Checks, which can be provided for free by GPs to all adults over 45 years of age, and all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples over 30 years of age, were introduced in 2019 as a temporary item on the Medical Benefits Schedule (MBS) costing $10 million per year.

The future of these Heart Health Checks is uncertain as the Department of Health and Aged Care undertakes its review, with the Australian Medical Association (AMA) and the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) calling for removal of Heart Health Assessment items from the MBS. Any redirected funding would allow GPs to do longer consultations and not focus on just heart disease.

But the Institute’s Professor Kovacic said these Heart Health Checks should be available to every eligible Australian yearly.

“Heart disease is the biggest killer in Australia and in the first eight months of 2022 we saw 17% more fatal heart attacks than was even predicted. This is not the time to make Heart Health Checks less available to the public,” said Professor Kovacic.

“We need to be carrying out more of these potentially life-saving tests and should not be trying to cut back on this program. I fear this will lead to lives being lost unnecessarily.”

The Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute is one of eight heart health groups, including Hearts4heart, which has been strongly advocating to retain Heart Health Checks on the MBS and make its inclusion permanent. The group is also calling for Auscultation to be added to the Heart Health Test assessment – which would allow GPs to use a stethoscope to listen to the heart and be able to detect conditions such as aortic stenosis – a serious condition that involves narrowing of one of the valves of the heart.

Since Heart Health Checks were introduced four years ago 407,000 Australians have had this done – getting their blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels tested, and their lifestyle assessed. Heart Health Checks also calculate the likelihood of having a heart attack within five years and what people can do to reduce their risk.

Professor Kovacic added “COVID and all the lockdowns had a significant impact on how many people had this test since it was introduced. It’s lower than we expected but with heart-related issues on the rise, there are hundreds of thousands of Australians who should be getting this test and we need to do everything we can to safeguard and promote it.”

Professor Stephen Nicholls, Director of Victorian Heart Institute, Monash University and Director of Victorian Heart Hospital, Monash Health, is also advocating for the retainment of the Heart Health Checks. He said “Support for screening like the heart check has flow on effects in the long term. Disease prevention and early detection comes with obvious economic benefits and relieves burden on our health care system.

“We’ve seen a large increase in people presenting for heart checks in the last 12-18 months after the height of the COVID pandemic, and it’s important to keep the momentum going. Having these heart health check-ups available and accessible is crucial now more than ever.”

Results from Victor Chang Heart Health Check specialist team, which conducts a community testing service, found the number of people who had abnormal cholesterol, blood sugar, and blood pressure levels had increased from 33% to 47% since the start of COVID-19 – a relative 42% increase.

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