As the Federal Government’s health and aged care ministers talked up the Budget at a webinar briefing this evening, many stakeholder groups were issuing critical media statements (as compiled by Croakey here).
Croakey editor and journalist Cate Carrigan attended the briefing and reports below.
Cate Carrigan writes:
The Coalition Government says it’s investing a record $132 billion over the next financial year – and $537 billion over four years – to build a stronger health system and ensure Australians have access to improved care, where and when they need it.
Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt told a webinar briefing that Australia’s successful response to COVID-19, with high vaccination rates and relatively low death rates, had helped fuel an economic recovery, which meant there was more money to invest in health into the future.
Minister Hunt Australia’s strong economic recovery from COVID-19 would “allow for a decade of investment in health,” he said.
He said record funding would ensure Australians have access to improved healthcare, when and where they need it, helping them to lead healthier lives, with improved health outcomes and to provide ongoing protection against COVID-19.
The Budget commits $537 billion to healthcare funding over the next four years, including a $7.3 billion increase in Medicare funding, $9.8 billion increase in Hospital funding and $10.1 billion increase in aged care funding.
There will also be $45.5 billion over four years to access more affordable medicines through the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS), and $1.7 billion for implementing the Primary Health Care 10 Year Plan.
The PBS safety net thresholds will be lowered, with the government saying give another 2.4 million Australians access to cheaper medicines.
Hunt said the government will also ensure telehealth remains a permanent part of Australia’s health system, and that more than 100 million services already delivered since March 2020.
Other major initiatives included nearly $300 million to deliver improvements in regional, rural and remote health as part of the 10-year Stronger Rural Health Strategy, including extending Medicare coverage for MRI services in regional areas.
There is also $4.2 billion for COVID-19 vaccines, treatments and support, allowing for preparations for the additional impacts of the pandemic over the coming winter months. The largest proportion of this would go to supporting the response of states and territories frontline health and hospital systems.
A further $1 billion will be made over two years to ensure continued access to safe and effective vaccines for all eligible people.
Measures to drive improvements in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health outcomes would receive $4.6 billion over four years; $522 million would go to reform in aged care in response to the Royal Commission; and $648.6 million to the government’s Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Reform Plan.
The Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister for Mental Health and Suicide Prevention David Coleman told the webinar there was $650 million in new money for mental health initiatives, including $336 million for prevention and early detection; and $344 million for suicide prevention, including $47 million to strengthen suicide prevention activities in local communities across the country.
As part of this, $10 million would be spent on funding suicide prevention regional response leaders to coordinate early intervention and suicide prevention activities in each of Australia’s 31 Primary Health Networks (PHNs).
On aged care, the Federal Government says it’s providing an addition $522 million to aged care as part of reforms flowing from the Aged Care Royal Commission.
It says this is part of the second year of its five-year reform program to ensure aged care is delivered with respect and care.
The Minister for Regional Health, David Gillespie, said the Government’s commitment to the 10-Year Stronger Rural Health Strategy was a “win/win” for regional Australia.
Australians can access quality health care services and treatments, no matter where they live, including in regional, rural and remote communities, he said.
Gillespie hailed a commitment to establish two new University Departments of Rural Health (UDRH) in the South West (Edith Cowan University) and Goldfields (Curtin University) regions of Western Australia, saying the best way to get junior doctors to practice in the bush, is to train them there.
There will also be investment in Charles Sturt University to deliver a Rural Clinical School and further expansion of the Rural Health and Medical Training (RHMT) program, which currently has a national network of 19 Rural Clinical Schools, 17 UDRHs and 26 hubs.
Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt, who is retiring at the election, praised Australia’s healthcare workers for their response to COVID-19, congratulating them on their work during the pandemic.
The Minister said Australia’s response was one of the best in the world and it had laid the foundation for a strong economic recovery.
“Our COVID-19 response underlines everything in this Budget,” he said. This was the reason for the strong recovery, that the unemployment rate was sitting at four percent and that the Government could outlay the money it had to secure long-term strong investment in health.
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