We’re frozen, there’s no provision for preventative health and it will be difficult for the poor to stay well – the aftermath from the 2016 Federal Health Budget

The Minister for Health Sussan Ley has said that the 2016 federal budget puts patient outcomes at the centre of health reform, but there doesn’t seem to be much agreement from the health industry. One of the main reasons why the industry hasn’t supported the health budget is due to the freeze on the Medicare Benefits Scheme (MBS) being extended for a further two years, until 2020.

The Australian Medical Association (AMA) launched #nomedicarefreeze national campaign against the Government’s Medicare patient rebate freeze. AMA President, Professor Brian Owler, said, “The Medicare patient rebate freeze extension means that health is going to cost more for all Australians, but particularly the poorest, the sickest, the vulnerable, and the disadvantaged.”

The Australian Medical Students Association (AMSA) has called for the Medicare Rebate Freeze to be lifted immediately following the Federal Election. AMSA President Elise Buisson said that young people, students, elderly, pensioners and the disabled are the ones that will be hit the hardest. Miss Buisson said, ““These changes will have an impact on career choices made by medical students. By putting stress on the profession of general practice, students will inevitably look to other professions to train and practise in.”

Optometry Australia CEO Genevieve Quilty said the MBS freeze was disappointing for patients. The patient rebate has been frozen for a further two years and there is no certainty that indexation will be recommenced from 2020. It’s obviously going to be a concern to optometry patients because when they access optometry services up to 2020 their rebates are going to continue to be frozen at the levels they were in 2014.

Ms Quilty said, “It effectively means that each year until 2020, as handed down in the Budget, their patient rebates will fall further and further behind the real cost of providing clinical care.”

The Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF) has written to the Government, the Opposition and the Greens, as part of its new multi-media campaign “If you don’t care, we can’t care”, calling on them to strengthen and improve Medicare by removing the freeze on rebates and committing to bulk-billing for out of hospital pathology tests.

The ANMF’s Acting Federal Secretary Annie Butler said, “By freezing rebates, the Government is effectively slashing funds for GPs, medical specialists and other health professionals forcing them to recoup this loss of funds from their patients and this means people could end up paying hundreds, if not thousands of dollars, in up-front costs for a wide range of crucial services.”

Occupational Therapy Australia as a key stakeholder invited to the Budget Lockup and Health Ministerial Briefing, we will be lobbying the relevant department directly to reverse the pause, while also encouraging all parties to see the community and consumer benefit from reversing it on MBS items.

The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) president Dr Frank R Jones said that the 2016 Federal Budget has done absolutely nothing to reverse the increasing pressure on Australia’s world-class healthcare system. “Extending the freeze until 2019-20 is calamitous and will lead to a loss of more $925 million from MBS funding; it may leave general practices unviable – which is just an extraordinary outcome,” Dr Jones said.

The Australian Physiotherapy Association (APA) will continue to participate in the Medicare review as a response to the continuation of the freeze. The freeze still concerning to physiotherapists in private practice. Under Medicare, physiotherapists can charge an out-of-pocket cost, but this isn’t possible for DVA patients, so the real cost is being undertaken by practitioners.

The Consumers Health Forum (CHF) calls on the Federal Government and the Opposition to lift the freeze on Medicare payments, saying that now is not the time to erode front line primary care services. The CEO of CHD said that such needed reforms are unlikely to succeed if doctors are expected to work for lower real incomes. The Health Care Homes plan is not going to work if consumers have to pay a gap for services.

2016 health budgetThe Australian Society of Ophthalmologists (ASO) President Michael Steiner is calling on the Federal Government to stop stalling on desperately needed reforms. ASO says Australians are continuing to get a raw deal on private health insurance because the Federal Government is failing to act on reforms it signalled were necessary. “Without consumers having a thorough understanding of the policies they purchase, insurers end up with all the power and they are therefore in a position to dictate how and when healthcare happens,” MR Steiner said.

On 4th May, AMSA had welcomed the 2016-17 Federal Budget support which will provide 100 additional internships in Australia. Ms Buisson said, “This program has an important focus on getting Australian-trained doctors into non-traditional settings, including rural and regional Australia, which is exactly where we need them.”

However, the next day, the 5th May, the AMSA urged the Federal Government not to raise fees for medical students, warning that disadvantaged students will be left behind. Ms Buisson called on the Government to make access to higher education for students from Indigenous, low socioeconomic, and rural backgrounds is a top priority.

Public Health Association Australia (PHAA) says that prevention still isn’t a priority in Australian health care. Vice President David Templeman stated, “The Federal Government has missed an opportunity to consider how the pressure could be taken off the health system. There doesn’t have to be a choice – treatment and prevention can both be funded, but investment in prevention can stop the problem before it starts.”

Indigenous Allied Health Australia (IAHA) welcomed the Government’s announcement of the Child and Adult Public Dental Scheme, as well as the Taking More Action to Prevent Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders. IAHA further welcomes the Government’s commitment to spending $2.9 billion in additional funding to state and territory’s public hospitals.

However, IAHA asserts that the Government’s commitment to provide equitable access for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander was not evident in the National Budget 2016-2017, where the focus was unapologetically on ensuring ‘Australia continues to successfully transition from the mining investment boom to a stronger, more diversified, new economy’.

Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association (AHHA) said that the 2016-17 Budget is a disappointing result for the health sector. Nearly fifty measures, including some small investments and many cuts, have been disguised as strategy. While the Child and Adult Public Dental Scheme and the increased tobacco tax are welcome, AHHA stated that action is needed to align the interfaces between health, aged care and disability services to help coordinate patient care.

The Pharmacy Guild of Australia has released a joint media release with the Medicines Partnership of Australia (MPA) welcoming predictability and certainty in response to the budget. They see the budget as confirming that the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme is stable and will continue to ensure Australian patients have access to safe, effective medicines following years of significant reforms in the sector.

In response to the federal budget, Australian Dental Association (ADA) intends to continue the fight to #savetheCDBS, which has been replaced by the Child and Adult Public Dental Scheme. The ADA has confirmed that dental funding has in fact decreased overall, which means that eligible recipients could receive as little as $42 per head of Commonwealth funded dental treatment.

Federal health budget 2016 health industry opinionThe ADA also said that the new dental scheme will be like Hunger Games. Dr Rick Olive AM RFD, President of the ADA said, “Not only has the government reduced available funding overall for dental care, it is now clear there is no funding distribution model being offered by the Commonwealth, so the larger states or those with greater capacity could potentially take more than their fair share of Commonwealth funding. To add further insult to injury, the caPDS cannot ensure that eligible patients from rural areas will be able to access a public dental clinic close enough to receive treatment, even if they got to the front of the waiting list. How will such a design ensure equity for all Australians eligible to receive services?”

The Pharmaceutical Society of Australia (PSA) welcomed the allocation of $21.3 million over four years to trial the Health Care Homes model, but questioned whether it is sufficient for patients with the most chronic needs to access genuine integrated care. The PSA also welcomed the tobacco excise increase and the proposed redesign of the Practice Incentives Program (PIP).

cohealth said that the 2016 budget will make it hard for the poor to stay well. cohealth Chief Executive, Lyn Morgan said, “We know that health is a product of people’s social and economic circumstances and this budget does nothing to ensure people on low incomes are given the best possible chance of achieving good health.”

The hospital and aged care services group, St Vincent’s Health Australia (SVHA), said that little to celebrate in health with not-for-profit service providers feeling the squeeze. They also said that it was concerning that the government had also expanded or remained wedded to unfair initiatives from previous years that will affect low income and sick Australians.

Toby Hall, CEO of St Vincent’s Health Australia, stated, “We are concerned that the Government’s decision to extend the freeze on Medicare rebates to doctors and other health professionals for another two years will end up hitting patients in higher out-of-pocket costs.”

The Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP) has welcomed increases in the excise on tobacco, but said the Budget sidestepped much needed reforms to alcohol pricing. RACP President Laureate Professor Nicholas Talley said: ““The impact alcohol is having on both individuals and society is hugely significant and it needs to be addressed. Alcohol consumption is a causal factor in more than 200 disease and injury conditions with huge costs to our community.”

The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists (RANZCP) continues to encourage the federal government to prioritise mental health care. Professor Malcolm Hopwood said, “The most significant burden of caring for the sickest patients still lies with the states and territories, and therefore remains negatively impacted by the federal government’s removal of funding for core clinical services for hospitals in 2014. It is disappointing to see that the 2016 federal Budget has not resolved this situation.”

The Australian Physiotherapy Association (APA) is running a campaign during the 2016 federal election to prioritise physiotherapy. It is to prevent physiotherapy being treated as a luxury item for many Australians who need it most, including people living with chronic conditions and many Australians who do not have private health insurance.

The Turnbull Government has made an announcement to increase its investment in health, aged care and sport to $89.5 billion in 2016–17, an increase of 4.1 per cent on 2015–16. They say the reforms are targeted to meet the growing needs and expectations of affordable, achievable and fair health service.

The reform package will cost $20.4 million, an the Government will also provide an extra $63.8 million over five years for Australians to access affordable drugs to treat a range of conditions including breast and prostate cancer and melanoma. This page will provide access to stakeholder information on the Department of Health’s 2016-17 Budget measures.

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Image: freedigitalphotos.net – Stuart Miles
Image: David Castillo Dominici – freedigitalphotos.net

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