The 2017-18 Federal Budget was handed down on 9 May 2017 by the Turnbull Government. The budget received mixed responses from various health associations and organisations.
The freeze will be lifted from bulk billing incentives for GP consultations from 1 July 2017, from standard GP consultations and other specialist consultations from 1 July 2018, from procedures from 1 July 2019, and targeted diagnostic imaging services from 1 July 2020. Meanwhile, the Medicare freeze for allied health professionals will be lifted in 2019.
The Australian Dental Association expressed that they are not surprised by the unveiling of the Federal Budget. The increase of the Child Dental Benefits Schedule (CDBS) cap from $700 to $1000 is simply reverting to the original cap amount. However, there is an indication that no increase to CDBS rebates prior to December of 2020, means as the costs of delivering services increase, rebates will stay the same.
Furthermore, The ADA has welcomed the reinstatement of indexation on DVA fees from July 2018, but remains skeptical as to the long term viability of the scheme. Dental practices will also be impacted by the changes of the budget for funding and small business.
The Australian Medical Association warmly welcomed the Government announcement, saying that the policy breakthroughs in the 2017 Health Budget are the direct result of the consultative approach of Health Minister, Greg Hunt, with the hands-on input and support of the Prime Minister.
AMA President, Dr Michael Gannon, said, “The AMA would have preferred to see the Medicare freeze lifted across the board from 1 July 2017, but we acknowledge that the three-stage process will provide GPs and other specialists with certainty and security about their practices, and will help address rising out-of-pocket costs for patients.”
In the same note, the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) welcomed the lifting of the Medicare rebate freeze as the first step towards a commitment to reinvesting in preventative health.
RACGP President, Dr Bastian Seidel, said that the lifting of the freeze was exactly what the RACGP’s #youvebeentargeted campaign was aiming for. The RACGP also expressed that they are pleased with the Federal Government’s commitment to funding practice based research networks and that Minister Hunt has extended the Medicare Benefits Review.
Meanwhile, Dietitians Association of Australia CEO Claire Hewat stated that unfreezing Medicare rebates for GPs in 2018 does not really improve overall function of the health system if allied health practitioners, such as dietitians, have to wait until 2019. DAA reasoned that the gradual Medicare ‘unfreeze’ will force Australians to pay more for key parts of their health care.
Ms Hewat said that poor diet is the leading preventable cause of ill health in Australia and globally, contributing to almost 18 per cent of deaths in Australia, while obesity costs the nation $58 billion a year.
“Removing the Medicare rebate freeze is a first step, but to keep Australians out of hospital and living well, this must be backed up by coordinated approach to prevention,” said Ms Hewat.
The Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF) stated their disappointment, saying that when the freeze eventually and completely lifted in 2020, it will be too little too late. The ANMF also stated that nursing students and aged care nurses are the big losers in this Federal Budget.
ANMF Federal Secretary, Lee Thomas, said that the budget again has shown no regard for aged care. It is also impacted the nursing and midwifery students, who have to pay more for university degrees and repay their HECS debt much sooner after the Budget cut the income threshold down to $42,000
In general, Occupational Therapists welcomed the Federal Budget, although they have to wait two more years for their freeze, as one of the allied health professions, to be lifted. Occupational Therapy Australia (OTA) welcomes the Federal Government’s commitment to fully funding the NDIS beyond 2019.
OTA will continue to approach the Government to discuss some concerns that can be improved. OTA a will also continue to promote the role of occupational therapists in primary health care and mental health, among others.
Optometry Australia is one of health associations that voiced their disappointment that the freeze was not lifted immediately. Since optometrists have had to bear a freeze on indexation from 2012 and endured a further cut to rebates in 2015, they remain frustrated despite a clear timeframe which provide a slight relief.
Optometry Australia’s national President Andrew Hogan said, “It is extremely disappointing that the Government continues to treat optometry as a low healthcare priority when more than half the Australian population suffers from an eye health problem or condition that can either be prevented or managed to reduce risk of vision loss.”
Along with many other allied health professions, the Australasian Podiatry Council (APC) is disappointed that the government has chosen not to lift the freeze particularly at a time when chronic and complex illnesses are the biggest health threat for Australians .
However, The APC noted that there are some small positives for consumers: the commitment to funding the shortfall for NDIS telehealth consultations. The Council is calling upon the government to not delay the freeze lifting until July 2019, and to reviewing the adequacy of Medicare rebates for allied health services.
The Pharmaceutical Society of Australia strongly welcomed $210 and $600 allocation for the community pharmacy programme, but expressed a disappointment in how the budget misses the opportunity for further maximising the role of pharmacists.
PSA National Vice President Michelle Lynch expressed their concerns on how the innovation and broadening the role of pharmacists now be funded and scaled up, and how to focus on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and rural consumers.
The Pharmacy Guild of Australia is pleased to have reached a Budget agreement with the Turnbull Government that supports community pharmacies in return for the provision of additional services for patients and ongoing reform. George Tambassis, National President of the Guild, said that it is a positive outcome for Australia’s community pharmacies, many of which are doing it tough after years of PBS savings measures.
Health budget overview
The Australian College of Nursing (ACN) has published the summary of Australian Government Health Budget 2017-18. It contains an overview of guaranteeing Medicare and access medicines, support for hospitals, ageing and aged care, investment in medical research, and prioritizing mental health, preventive health and sport.
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