How will the federal budget affect health professions?

The federal government handed down its 2014-2015 budget on Tuesday 13th May 2014. Click here for the expense measures for health. The government intends for budget savings from health to be diverted to the Medical Research Future Fund to help keep Australia at the forefront of the medical research sector. The budget has not been well received by a number of organisations in the health industry. A number of professional bodies will be looking to have amendments made. Here are just some of the health professions that will be affected by the budget……

Dentistry

The Australian Dental Association has noted that the Child Dental Benefit Schedule will remain, and that the Voluntary Dental Graduate Year Program will most likely continue. However, there are concerns that people who previously received dental services under the Chronic Disease Dental Scheme which ended in 2012 would not be able to access services under a new scheme perhaps until July 2015. The Australian Healthcare & Hospitals Association has also commented, saying that public dental patients will feel budget pain.

The federal government will also not be proceeding with the dental and oral health clinic developments at Charles Sturt University.

Medical Imaging

By 1st July 2015, out-of-hospital diagnostic imaging services can attract a patient contribution of $7 per service.  The Diagnostic Imaging Quality Program will also be ceased over 5 years.

The government will provide incentives for diagnostic imaging providers to upgrade or replace older equipment. The full Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) fee will be paid for services performed on newer or upgraded diagnostic imaging equipment, with the MBS fee reducing by 50 percent for services performed on older equipment.

Medical Research

The government will spend $200 million over 5 years to boost research to improve the treatment of dementia in Australia.

The Medical Research Future Fund will be established in January 2015, and will be funded by health reforms until it reaches $20 billion. It will assist Australia in maintaining a world-class medical research sector.

Medicine

The Australian Medical Association has said that the health budget is full of pain for patients. They are concerned about the new co-payments for services such as GP visits and pathology, as well as the freezing of rebates for specialist visits.

Medical student David Townsend is one of the people behind a new movement called CoPayStories. The CoPayStories website will be launched on Monday 19th May.

The government will provide $238.4 million over 5 years to double to Practice Incentives Program Teaching Payment for general practices providing teaching to medical students. It will increase to $200 for each 3 hour session.

The government will support training for up to 300 extra general practitioners a year by boosting GP training places from 1200 to 1500 places in 2015.

The government will provide at least 175 infrastructure grants of up to $300,000 for existing general practices in rural and remote settings to provide additional consulting rooms and space for teaching and training. Successful practices will need to match the government funding.

Optometry

The Optometrists Association Australia will be meeting with the Department of Health regarding a reduction in the rebate for optometry services funded under Medicare from 85% to 80% of the scheduled fee. There are also changes to the time frames for the eligibility of a comprehensive eye examination.

See our article for more details on how the rules regarding Medicare benefits for optometry services will change.

Pharmacy

The Pharmacy Guild of Australia has expressed concerns about the impact of increasing Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme co-payments for medications by $5 for general patients and $0.80 for concessional patients from 1st January 2015. They believe that it will now be more important than ever for pharmacists to be advising patients about taking their medications as prescribed.

The government will provide $16.5 million over 5 years to reduce red tape in public and private hospitals by enabling a paperless claiming system for Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme medicines dispensed from medication charts.

The government will provide $378.7 million over 5 years for new and amended listings on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme and the Repatriation Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.

The government will provide $2.1 million over 2 years to the Pharmacy Guild of Australia to administer the payment functions for the Professional Pharmacy Programmes under the Fifth Community Pharmacy Agreement.

Psychology

The government will achieve savings of $53.8 million by deferring the establishment of 13 Partners in Recovery organisations for two years. The existing 48 organisations will continue their work with people with a severe and persistent mental illness and complex support needs.

Funding for ten additional headspace sites will be granted, and an evaluation of the headspace programme for youth aged 12 to 25 with or at risk of mental illness.

All health professions

Cuts to hospital spending will impact on all health professionals working in this sector.

Patients with a disability or who require a carer

Speech Pathology Australia has expressed concerns about the indexation of the Disability Support Pension and Carers Payment, which will affect patients with disabilities.

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