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13 May 2015

BRIAN OWLER: Brian Owler, president, AMA. Tonight’s Budget has some positive aspects in terms of Health, but unfortunately does not go anywhere near addressing the changes – the devastating cuts that were made to Health, particularly for public hospital funding, in the 2014 Budget. There’s no indication in this Budget about reversing and restoring public hospital funding that’s needed for our states and territories and there’s no indication about the freeze to the patient rebates - the freeze to the indexation of patient rebates to see GPs or specialists.

We are also quite concerned that the MBS review has taken a prominent place in the Health Budget this year. Part of our support for that measure was to make sure that this was about modernising the MBS. Modernising the schedule. And what we’ve seen is it – take private(*) place as a Budget measure. This is very concerning for the AMA. People need to remember that the MBS schedule – the schedule actually is the patient’s rebate. If the items are not on that schedule, if the procedures are not on that schedule, it means that the patients don’t have access to those procedures. So we will be seeking urgent clarification from the Minister for Health and the Prime Minister on what direction the MBS review is going to take.

Now, we do welcome the fact that there are the announcements that have already been made around vaccination and eHealth. These are positive steps and I think they are very welcome. What we are concerned about is the lack of information in the Budget particularly around $1.7 billion in funding cuts that are to take place in this Budget. That’s over a four year period. Many of those funds are flexible funds. They actually fund programs and organisations for things like Alzheimer’s disease, for palliative care, for research on drug and alcohol, and we need to make sure that we understand what those cuts are going to mean for those organisations and those programs in the future.

QUESTION: Doctor, how would you rate the Government’s consultation this time around as opposed to last?

BRIAN OWLER: Well look, we’ve been working very well with the Minister for Health, and the Prime Minister has said that there wouldn’t be any new major announcements without consultation with the medical profession. We welcome the fact that there are no, I guess, shocks in this Budget as there were last year. So, from that point of view I think that’s a positive development but we are also very conscious of the fact that there are major cuts to our public hospital system particularly from 2017 and we need to see those addressed in the forward estimates and we need to make sure that our public hospitals are going to be properly funded in the future.

QUESTION: All of the savings you held that was [indistinct] to put into a Medicare Research Future Fund but tonight the Government announced it was halving the [indistinct] payment [indistinct].

BRIAN OWLER: Well, the Government still says that we’re on track to get a $20 billion Medical Research Future Fund. But that is something that the AMA and all health professionals recognise the importance of and are pleased to have. But our difficulty with the fund has always been the way that it’s funded. We stopped the GP co-payment from going ahead and other cuts as well that were going to mean – that were going to go into the fund but I think it’s important to recognise that there are already many savings – particularly those from public hospitals but also other programs and agencies that have already been cut that go into that fund. So, I think it’s important that we start to see the fund first of all established, and I think it’s vitally important that the fund is established in the next few months to give us confidence that there is a fund and – but also, particularly for our researchers that are really struggling at the moment for funding, to see that funding coming through in the form of payments.

UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER:   Yeah and that’s the [indistinct].

BRIAN OWLER: Thank you. 

Published: 13 May 2015