2016 raises prospect of more co-payments

Consumers face a range of increased out of pocket costs for frontline doctor care and medicines if measures in this and previous budgets pass a future Senate, the Consumers Health Forum says. Tonight’s Budget will extract another $925 million by freezing Medicare rebates over the next three years, on top of the $1.3 billion already removed in previous years, increasing the pressure on GPs to drop bulk billing and charge gap fees.

The vote of a future Senate could also mean a range of fresh out of pocket costs, including a $5 rise in the co-payment for prescribed medicines and cutting of the $630 million in bulk billing incentives to pathologists and radiologists.

“These measures will discourage the sort of reform we need to support a primary health care system that would improve care for those with chronic and complex illness,” the CEO of the Consumers Health Forum, Leanne Wells said.

“Once again the Government is focusing funding on hospitals when better primary care would reduce demands on hospitals. “On top of the prospect of rising out of pocket costs are the cuts in oral health funding which pose a backward step for those millions of Australians who can’t afford to see the dentist.

“The Government’s announcement last month of plans to shift dental services back to state governments, and save an estimated $1 billion in forecast spending, is a retrograde step given the many Australian children and adults for whom dental care is unaffordable.

“We welcome the steps by the Health Minister Sussan Ley to reform of primary health care, and reviews of Medicare benefits and of private health insurance.

“But much more funding is needed to support the substantial changes required to renovate Australia’s health system.

“The proposed Health Care Homes is the one shining light where successful implementation involving clinical, consumer and PHN co-design and localised translation must be assured. Health care homes have the potential to transform the care of those with chronic and complex conditions. But the continued Medicare freeze on payments to doctors poses a disincentive to participate in the roll-out of this reform.

“It sends a signal that the Government is not giving the priority to the setting it is relying on to embrace health care homes.

“If Australia is to meet the challenges of modern health care, it requires a 21st century primary health system that will provide the growing numbers of chronically ill with the integrated care they need through a single healthcare destination--- and reduce demand for expensive hospital treatment.

“The Minister has announced a promising trial of the “Health Care Homes” plan for care of those with chronic and complex conditions. But expecting such a development to be cost neutral, besides the $21 million for the trials, with no real extra funding committed, represents a big obstacle to its success.

“The program will need to adequately resource practices with the means to broker gaps in services and extend care into the home and community, to minimise the need for hospital. The program will also need to ensure that patients are equipped with the knowledge and services they need to maintain a healthy lifestyle,” Ms Wells said.

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Mark Metherell

Em.metherell@chf.org.au
T:  02 6273 5444 
M: 0429 111 986