Health Budget steady as she goes
The AMA has labelled the 2018-19 Health Budget as “safe and steady”, but adds that it is notable as much for what is not to be found in it as it is for what is included.
Treasurer Scott Morrison has delivered a Federal Budget with an eye on the next federal election, promising tax relief for middle Australia, significant infrastructure investment and more funding for aged care.
On the health front, the establishment of a new 21st century medical industry plan to create more jobs and support more medical research projects is a major commitment.
This Budget includes an extra $1.4 billion for listings on the PBS, including medicines to treat spinal muscular atrophy, breast cancer, refractory multiple myeloma, and relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis, as well as a new medicine to prevent HIV.
The Government will also provide $154 million to promote active and healthy living, including $83 million to improve existing community sport facilities, and to expand support for the Sporting Schools and Local Sporting Champions programs.
It has dismissed a proposal for a single and separate Murray Darling Medical School, in favour of a network, in what AMA President Dr Michael Gannon has described as a better approach.
Mr Morrison said the plan was to get more doctors to where they are needed through a new workforce incentive program.
“This plan includes the establishment of a new network of five regional medical schools within the broader Murray Darling Region,” Mr Morrison said when delivering his Budget Address to Parliament on May 8.
Dr Gannon said many of the rural health initiatives outlined in the Budget are a direct response to AMA rural health policies and the AMA Budget Submission.
“We welcome the Government’s strong focus in this Budget on improving access to doctors in underserviced communities, particularly rural Australia,” Dr Gannon said.
“The decision to reject the proposal for a stand-alone Murray Darling Medical School, in favour of a network, is a better approach with the Government instead pursuing a policy that builds on existing infrastructure to create end-to-end medical school programs.
“However, while the Government has made a welcome commitment not to increase Commonwealth-supported medical school places, it has taken the unnecessary step of compensating medical schools with additional overseas full-fee paying places.
“This will not address community need, and instead simply waste precious resources.”
Dr Gannon said overall, the Government had delivered a safe and steady Health Budget, which outlines a broad range of initiatives across the health portfolio.
Necessary funding to aged care, mental health, rural health, the PBS, and medical research, were all welcome commitments.
“But some of the bigger reforms and the biggest challenges are yet to come,” he said.
“Due to a number of ongoing major reviews, this Budget is notable as much for what is not in it as for what is in it.
“The major reviews of the Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) and private health are not yet finalised, and the ensuing policies will be significant.
“We are pleased that indexation has been restored to general practice and other specialty consultations, but new and considerable investment in general practice is missing.
“Also, the signature primary care reform – Health Care Homes – did not rate a mention.”
Health Minister Greg Hunt described the Budget as a “record investment in health” and pointed to a previously announced commitment from the Federal Government to public hospitals.
“The Government will deliver more than $30 billion in additional public hospital funding under a five-year National Health Agreement, with funding increasing for every State and Territory, every year,” Mr Hunt said.
But Shadow Health Minister Catherine King said the Budget failed the health test.
The Government was persisting with a plan to cut $715 million from hospitals over the next two years, she said.
“Their hospital cuts are putting doctors, nurses and hospital staff under increasing pressure; forcing delays in surgeries; and making emergency department waiting times even worse,” Ms King said.
Published: 10 May 2018