The health industry’s reaction to the 2015 Federal Budget

health industry federal budgetAs usual, the federal government’s health budget has been a mixed bag for the industry. Professional bodies representing practitioners including podiatrists, pharmacists, occupational therapists, medical practitioners, optometrists, dentists, nurses and medical students have all had something to say about the budget.

Here’s a summary……


Building a Healthier Medicare

The Government has announced that they will establish a taskforce to review the Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) in order to improve the sustainability of Medicare. They are also putting together a Primary Health Care Advisory Group to “investigate new funding models to deliver better care, particularly for chronic conditions.”

See the details from the government here.

Industry bodies including the Australian Physiotherapy Association (APA), the Australasian Podiatry Council (APodC), and the Australian Primary Health Care Nurses Association (APNA) have expressed interest in being involved in the Medicare review.

Occupational Therapy Australia (OTA) has also said that they will lobby to ensure their members are included in the taskforce.

However, the Australian Medical Association (AMA) President A/Prof Brian Owler has sought clarification about the objectives of the MBS review saying that the health system is “still struggling with the impact of the freeze on Medicare patient rebates”
Budget details show that a reversal of the changes to the Medicare Benefits Schedule for GPs will cost $2,991 million over 5 years.

Optometry MedicareThe Pharmaceutical Society of Australia (PSA) have said that they expect to see pharmacists as integral members of the Primary Health Care Advisory Group.
According to the PSA, “It was revealed at budget lockup that of the current 5,700 services covered by the MBS, only 3% had ever been assessed for effectiveness. PSA advocates for evidence-based services and this review is a strong step in that direction for the MBS which could see substantial savings. The PSA believes that this could create opportunities for investment in evidence-based pharmacist services.”

Optometry Australia has repeatedly said that the federal government’s freeze on Medicare rebates as well as rebate cuts makes them blind to the eye needs of Australians after calls for improved access to eye care.


My Health Record – eHealth

The budget announcement included a $485 million boost improve the electronic health record for all Australians.

The APA national president Marcus Dripps has welcomed this funding, saying that eHealth is an extremely important area for physiotherapists across Australia, and that the system will help all healthcare providers to have access to the information they need to treat patients safely and efficiently with their medical history.

2015 federal health budgetThe AMA was particularly in favour of the opt-out component of the eHealth record, as was the Pharmacy Guild of Australia.

However, the PSA is a little more guarded saying that the invigoration of the eHealth record is a “potential positive” for consumers. The PSA have expressed disappointment in the fact that there was only a mention of GPs and no other health professionals regarding funds to incentivise education around eHealth.

OTA has said that they will join forces with Allied Health Professionals Australia to lobby for greater participation of allied health in the areas of eHealth record design and rollout.


Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS)

The government announced that there would be $1.6 billion for new and amended listings on the PBS, including more effective treatments for cancer.

However, according to the acting PSA national president Michelle Lynch, “savings identified in the Budget papers through PBS price disclosure will total $3.1 billion in 2018-19. These savings should be reinvested in ensuring patients receive access to affordable evidence-based pharmacist care.”

non medical prescribingThe Pharmacy Guild of Australia has said that PBS growth is being driven by drugs and prescriptions that largely bypass the community pharmacy network, with “50% of the dollar growth predicted in the next four years will come from Highly Specialised Drugs and other drugs dispensed in hospitals, even though they only represent 22% of the total spend.”

According to the Guild, “The Department of Health’s Budget papers reveal that savings generated by PBS price disclosure will increase from $2.1 billion in 2014-15 to $3.1 billion in 2018-19.  The projections indicate that savings will now exceed $14 billion over the period of the 6CPA.”


Child Dental Benefits Schedule

The Australian Dental Association (ADA) has said that the federal budget has left a bad taste in the mouth for consumers and dentists due to:

  • The cancellation of the Voluntary Dental Graduate Year Programme, which will make it more difficult for dentists to find jobs (there were 50 subsidised positions each year in this scheme)
  • A $45 million reduction in the Child Dental Benefits Schedule funding that was promised


Aged Care Reform

The federal government has announced that from 1 February 2017, funding will be allocated to the consumer based on their care needs. This will allow consumers greater choice in deciding who provides their care and increase competition among providers.

The Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF) has said that the issue of growing unemployment of nurse graduates and the appallingly low wages in aged care were not addressed in the budget.


Small Business

The federal government has announced a $5.5 billion jobs and small business package, which includes $3.3 billion in tax cuts.

Details of the tax package for small business are available here.

The Pharmacy Guild of Australia welcomed the small business package, saying that the tax discount for businesses with annual turnover of under $2 million are significant and helpful.

The APA have also welcomed the tax cuts. Brisbane physiotherapist Melissa Locke has said that it represents an opportunity to employ another staff member or increase the hours of a current staff member, develop more innovative services for clients or consider buying a commercial site.


Higher Education

The Australian Medical Students’ Association (AMSA) has expressed strong opposition to the federal government’s push to higher education fee deregulation from January 2016. AMSA President Dr James Lawlor says that in a deregulated system, medical degrees will leave students with debts of up to $250,000 as opposed to $60,000 which will deter students from pursuing careers in general practice and in remote locations.


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