By Eddie Morton, Associate Director of Sandpiper Health based in Australia. Eddie is a former journalist with extensive experience in healthcare PR and communications, specifically stakeholder and government relations, policy, advocacy, healthcare supply data analysis and communications
The Australian Government’s focus on health in the recent Budget was welcomed almost universally. Allocations for increased primary care access, multidisciplinary team-based care, technology, medicines and data sharing were all widely supported. But concerns remain about demand, fit-for-purpose rebates and rebate indexation and right-sited care (virtual or in-person). And while government promises are positive, the aged care sector is also awaiting the implementation of recommendations from the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety.
Sandpiper’s Healthcare Tracker research consistently reveals Australia’s steadfast public support for its healthcare system.
Compared to their Asia Pacific neighbours, Australians place healthcare costs, quality and access above economy, jobs and the environment consistently. Their appreciation for their universal Medicare system – and its uniquely mixed private counterpart – consistently delivers high satisfaction levels. General practitioners, meanwhile, lead consumer sentiment scores, which is testament to the widely regarded GP-patient relationship in the face of intensifying demand.
Australians are most concerned with the burden of cancer and chronic illness, the rise of mental conditions – especially among younger cohorts whose reliance on GP services is rapidly rising – and the threat of another pandemic. In response to these concerns, they want to seem more investment in health infrastructure, preventative health and affordable care.
|Which health condition are Australians most concerned about?|
|2. Mental Illness|
|3. Potential infectious disease outbreaks|
|What Australians want the government to spend money on?|
|1. Hospitals & infrastructure|
|2. Prevention of ill health|
|3. Affordable care|
Medicare, however – the country’s much-adored universal health benefits scheme – is now 40 years old but has not kept pace with changes to population health and the cost of care.
The response, which this year’s Budget sought to relay: A decades overdue overhaul, which Health Minister Mark Butler forewarned as not going to be quick, not going to be easy and not going to be fixed in one budget.
Ahead of the budget, Australia’s peak healthcare organisations urged greater funding for primary care to ease an accessibility crisis crippling the frontline community service and exacerbating accessibility, workforce and affordability issues down the line into tertiary (hospital) settings.
The AMA called for increased funding, improved indexation, and voluntary patient enrollment for GP services. The Pharmacy Guild proposed reduced co-payments, reformed indexation, and opposed 60-day dispensing. The ADA prioritised a Senior Dental Benefits Scheme, enhanced Child Dental Benefit Schedule, and improved funding for adult dental services.
PHA focused on combating fraud, reducing over-pricing of medical devices, abolishing second-tier benefits, and increasing the Medicare Levy Surcharge and Private Health Insurance Rebate. ACCPA requested more funding for Home Care Packages, addressing workforce shortages, and extending student visa holders’ working hours. CHA proposed increased consumer contributions, deregulation of the Basic Daily Fee, and an aged care innovation fund.
Vision 2020 Australia aimed to address vision loss, focusing on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, publicly funded eye care, and research investment. AAMRI emphasized retaining researchers and increasing funding for research costs through Ideas Grants.
Did industry get what they wanted? More than AUD$27.9 billion of new investments into health and aged care were announced. The centerpiece, according to Health Minister Mark Butler, was a tripling of the provision of bulk billing services for GPs and a 15% pay increase for all aged care workers.
This year will mark a notable milestone in Australia’s journey to bolster its already world-class health system. The focus on upstream services in primary care, improving access and affordability through bulk billing, strengthening the coalface against demand with workforce funding, and preventative measures against smoking, vapes and cancer screening, all bode well for a future-proofed system.
“With access to GP care getting more difficult for these patients due to increasing out of pocket costs, this targeted support is much needed and will make a real difference, especially in rural and regional areas,” AMA President Steve Robson said in the wake of the budget. “This will ease pressure on GPs and help make care more convenient and accessible for patients.”
Adjunct Prof Terry Slevin, CEO of the Public Health Association of Australia, said all eyes will be on the government’s commitment to the Australian Centre for Disease Control.
“2023 is a milestone for public health in Australia because it’s when the Australian Government will give birth to its promised Australian Centre for Disease Control,” he said.
“We have been clear that funding needs to be in the hundreds, not tens of millions of dollars. A well-resourced and funded ACDC is absolutely crucial to Australia’s ability to prepare for pandemics of the future, as well as tackling the growing threat of preventable disease in Australia.”
Medicines Australia CEO Liz de Somer rallied the praise, highlighting the need for innovating medicines and a comprehensive Health Technology Assessment review.
“Medicare and the PBS must evolve together, and the Government’s first major Health Technology Assessment (HTA) review in 30 years provides a critical opportunity to achieve long overdue PBS reform. Making our HTA ‘fit for the future’, to sit alongside Medicare, must now be our collaborative goal,” said Ms de Somer.