Blog: The Budget and Health
By Finbar O’Mallon
Unlike changes to education, which will have an immediate impact on under-30s, changes to health will be felt by everyone.
- You will now have to pay a $7 GP co-payment every time you visit the doctor, or get an X-ray, get vaccinated, get a blood test etc etc. Even if you are a concession card-holder, you still have to pay, but everything after your 10th visit is free.
- From the new $7 co-payment, $5 will go towards a $20 billion Medical Research Future Fund. This fund is just capital, so the real money for the fund will be the interest, which is expected to be $1 billion by 2022 / 23.
- Despite the medical fund, research in other areas (including the CSIRO) will be reduced by $146.8 million over the forward estimates.
- This co-payment is a minimum, and GPs may have to charge more in the future. The Grattan Institute’s Stephen Duckett believes the co-payment could rise, as does Wagdy Latif, a GP, speaking to ABC’s 7:30.
- Federal funding for hospitals has been cut by $1.1 billion, putting more pressure on individual state and territory governments to put more money into their health systems. The government is allowing them the option of a $7 GP co-payment at emergency rooms, but states will probably avoid this.
- On the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, general patients will have to pay $5 towards each prescription from July, rising to $42.70 by January. Concession card holders will pay $0.80c from July, rising to $6.90 by January.
- A new, ‘simpler’ Medicare Safety Net is a system that covers out-of-pocket costs of up to $400, fully reimbursing you at the end of the year (capped at a threshold). The government will then reimburse you for 80% of the out-of-pocket costs at the end of the year if you go over the safety net’s cap.
- The government will be putting $14.9 million towards establishing ten new Headspace centres in Australia. Headspace is a national youth mental health organisation.
- Campaigning to get people off smoking will switch to purely online and social media elements, saving $2.9 million by cutting traditional advertising.
- The government will put $7.5 million into replenishing the National Medical Stockpile. The NMS is a stockpile of medicines, vaccines, antidotes etc, that will be used in the event of a national health emergency (like natural causes or a terrorist attack).
- The National Disability Insurance Scheme’s funding will remain intact.
The part that has caused the most backlash here is the $7 GP co-payment. Whether you’re a child or concession cardholder, you do still have to pay, but after your 10th visit you no longer have to pay the co-payment. The government has called this a “balanced” response to the $15 co-payment recommendation by the Commission of Audit.
The Medical Research Future Fund has been generally well received. But its funding is also tied to the co-payment, so when government tries to take it through parliament then those blocking the co-payment are also blocking a serious investment in Australian medical research.
This is where Treasurer Joe Hockey’s idea of everyone contributing really comes to the fore; everyone (young, poor, old, well-off) seriously does contribute to the budget with the Medicare co-payment.
Again, like education, commentators are rating health a loser with this budget (though the ABC rates medical research a winner).