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A rolling wrap of reactions to the Federal Budget: part one

Introduction by Croakey: The Albanese Government is pitching its Budget as building a fairer Australia, with boosts to income and supports, cost of living relief, Medicare bulk billing, and the aged care workforce.

However, there are major concerns that income support increases in particular do not go anywhere near what is needed, that there is little to address the housing crisis, and no significant funding commitments to prevention in health.

Read the Treasurer’s speech, and you can access all the Budget papers here. See also our Twitter thread.

Below, we compile rolling reaction to the Budget from: Australian Medical Association (AMA), Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF), Royal Australian College of GPs (RACGP), Council on the Ageing (COTA) Australia, Public Health Association of Australia, Everybody’s Home, Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS), Close the Gap, Climate and Health Alliance (CAHA), Catholic Health Australia, community services provider cohealth, Australian Alcohol and other Drugs Council (AADC), Consumers Health Forum of Australia, Australian Primary Health Care Nurses Association, People with Disability Australia and more to come.

Note: the post was updated on 12 May with additional analysis and graphics from the Australian Council of Social Service: see below. 


Strong focus on supporting general practice, including welcome boost to bulk billing

Australian Medical Association (AMA)

The AMA said the Budget showed the Government had been listening to its calls to “tackle the viability crisis facing general practices, improve access to general practice for vulnerable Australians, tackle inadequate Medicare indexation and make medicines more affordable for consumers battling with the cost of living”.

President Professor Steve Robson said the AMA welcomes the record $3.5 billion to triple the bulk billing incentive for concession card holders and children under 16, with this applying to most GP consultations. It was much needed targeted support and would make a real difference, especially in rural and regional areas, he said.

He also welcomed changes to the formula for indexing Medicare rebates that will deliver an extra $1.5 billion over and above the former framework that had been in place since 1996.

Robson said the AMA was pleased to see $445.1 million in additional funding for the Workforce Incentive Program, to encourage general practices to engage more nursing and allied health professionals and support the delivery of well coordinated multidisciplinary care — all under one roof.

The $99.1 million in new funding for GP consultations that last 60 minutes or longer will help patients with very complex health care needs and support GPs to spend more time with them, Robson said.

The AMA welcomed the MyMedicare program, which will give patients the opportunity to voluntarily enrol with their preferred GP, saying the Government had “learnt from past mistakes” such as the Health Care Homes Trial, “preferring a blended funding model in which additional funding is made available on top of existing fee for service arrangements”.

Robson said while most of the implementation detail still needs to be worked through, it appears the Voluntary Patient Enrolment (VPE) will open up funding and access to additional telehealth services, enhanced GP led care for frequent hospital users, better targeted chronic disease items, and extra incentives for GP services in Residential Aged Care.

Robson said the Government had adopted MBS Review Taskforce recommendations including a six minute floor for a Level B consultation item, the simplification of GP chronic disease management arrangements and the encouragement of longitudinal care.

The Budget also contains $50 million for a wounds consumable scheme in general practice and confirms the move, over time for 325 medicines where a stable and clinically suitable patient can access 60 days supply of their medicine and a 12-month prescription from their doctor.

The AMA also welcomed announcements regarding a crack down on vapes, with $234 million committed to addressing the issue, and welcome progress on the establishment of an Australian Centre for Disease Control, with $91.1 million set aside for its establishment over the next two years.

Robson said the Budget forecasts suggest total expenditure on Medicare is going to be less than had been previously expected, although “as a society we are growing in size, we are growing older, and we have more chronic disease”.  They also suggest Australia has still not rebounded from COVID-19, “while patients have also struggled to access the care they need due to cost and the failure to adequately invest in our health system. This means patients will be diagnosed later in their illness, when they are much sicker and their care needs are more complex. This will have profound implications for our public hospitals that are already buckling under pressure.”



Welcome pathway for nurses and midwives

Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF)

The ANMF said the Federal Government’s review of the scope of practice of healthcare professionals, including nurses and midwives, as part of a $6.1 billion dollar funding package to strengthen Medicare, will offer a pathway for better access to healthcare across the community.

ANMF Federal Secretary, Annie Butler, said the removal of red tape which prevents highly-skilled nurse practitioners (NP) and eligible midwives from providing patients with timely access to needed health services, and the 30% increase in Medicare rebates for NP care, will empower them to do what they’re qualified and trained to do, without the need for ‘collaborative arrangements’ with doctors.

“The ANMF and our members believe this is a positive, first-step in putting nurses and midwives at the centre of genuine Medicare reforms and playing a key role in multi-disciplinary models of care across the community,” she said.

Butler said $445 million for the Workforce Incentive Payment (WIP) would encourage eligible general practices to employ more nurses, NPs and midwives, but called on the Government to continue to develop funding models, which genuinely incentivise multi-disciplinary models of care, where a consumer can choose their lead clinician, to improve chronic disease management and, critically, reduce pressure on EDs and hospitals.

The ANMF welcomed $11.3 billion to fund the long-awaited 15% pay rise for the underpaid aged care workforce, but again re-emphasised the need for the Government to enforce tight-rules on providers’ use of the money.

It also welcomed: $4.2 million for additional 6,000 practice nursing placements; $1m million to attract 500 previously Enrolled and Registered Nurses to return to the workforce; changes to scholarships to focus on nursing, midwifery and First Nations health workers; the tripling of the bulk-billing incentive payments for concession card holders, pensioners and people under 16; $818.5 million for First Nations health and the cost of living relief package, including increased access to the single parenting payment for children up to 14 and cheaper medicines.


$5.7 b package is “game changer” for GPs, patients

Royal Australian College of GPs (RACGP)

The RACGP has welcomed the federal Budget as “a game changer” for GPs, practice teams and the patients they care for across Australia.

RACGP President Dr Nicole Higgins commended the Government for a “massive investment in general practice care”, saying it was “groundbreaking” and the Government “has shown real commitment to strengthening Medicare and rebuilding general practice care for all patients.”

Higgins said the $5.7 billion funding package triples the bulk-billing incentive, hikes Medicare rebates twice this year, and boosts the Workforce Incentive Payment. It also includes funds for a new Medicare item for longer consultations lasting more than 60 minutes, which she said “will make a real difference for all Australians”.

“Hiking Medicare rebates this year in July and again in November is a good first step in reducing out-of-pocket costs for patients across the country at a time when it’s most needed given increasing cost of living pressures. Tripling the bulk billing incentive will help to increase access to care for those Australians who need it most and arrest the decline in bulk-billing. The new Medicare item, Level E, for consultations over 60-minutes, will improve access to care for patients with complex needs, such as those with chronic conditions and mental health issues.

Higgins said it was “fantastic news’” that Medicare patient rebates for longer phone consultations had been reinstated as a permanent fixture of the nation’s telehealth system,” she said.



Positive for older Australians – particularly women

Council on the Ageing (COTA) Australia

COTA Australia said older Australians would receive many direct benefits from the budget. They include “energy relief of up to $500 per year, cheaper medicines, more GPs bulk billing pensioners and healthcare card holders without a co-payment, $15 a week more rent assistance, $20 a week more in JobSeeker payments, and an additional $40 more a week in JobSeeker if you’re 55 years old or older battling ageism when looking for a job for more than 9 months.”

“We know that older women are disproportionately impacted by unemployment and are unfortunately the fastest growing group at risk of homelessness, so budget measures that address those issues are not just welcomed, they’re crucial,” said CEO Patricia Sparrow.

COTA Australia also welcomed:

  • the new health initiatives in the Budget, particularly tripling the bulk billing incentive payment to GPs and extended public dental services as well as an overall aged care spend increasing to $36B in 2023-24, including a long overdue pay increase for aged care workers
  • an increase of 9000 home care packages and the foundations for a new home care program being laid, although it was disappointing  that the creation of the new Support at Home Program has been delayed yet again
  • measures that strengthen digital protections and education which older Australians will benefit from
  • requiring superannuation to be paid on pay day
  • funding to ensure the ATO has the teeth to be able to ensure compliance around the new superannuation requirements.

“We look forward to the new Aged Care Taskforce taking action to deliver on the next set of fundamental reforms, particularly ensuring a rights based system, self-management, improved support at home, sustainabili