Health Minister Greg Hunt has earned praise from doctors’ groups for the “well overdue” move, which will be staggered over four years at a cost of $1 billion
Australian Medical Association (AMA) President Dr Michael Gannon said that while it would have preferred to see the Medicare freeze lifted across the board from 1 July 2017, the decision to unfreeze the rebate is a step in the right direction.
“This is a monkey that has been on the back of the Coalition Government since the 2014 Budget that cut significant dollars out of health. This is the chance to correct those wrongs,” he said.
“The AMA would have preferred to see the Medicare freeze lifted across the board from 1 July 2017, but we acknowledge that the three-stage process will provide GPs and other specialists with certainty and security about their practices, and patients can be confident that their health care will remain accessible and affordable.”
The freeze will be lifted from:
- Bulk billing incentives for GP consultations from 1 July 2017;
- Standard GP consultations and other specialist consultations from 1 July 2018;
- Procedures from 1 July 2019; and
- Targeted diagnostic imaging services from 1 July 2020.
The lifting of the freeze on Medicare rebates will cost the Government about $1 billion, while altogether the 2017-17 Budget includes a $10 billion package to invest into Australia’s health system.
“This Budget includes a $2.4 billion additional investment in Medicare over the next four years,” said Health Minister Greg Hunt.
“All Australians can be assured Medicare is not only here to stay, but will be strengthened into the future.”
Dr Gannon applauded the Health Minister for his consultative approach.
“Minister Hunt said from day one in the job that he would listen and learn from the people who work in the health system every day about what is best for patients, and he has delivered.”
The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) has also welcomed the lifting of the Medicare rebate freeze, saying it represents the first step towards a commitment to reinvesting in preventative health.
“The patient rebate had been frozen since 2013 putting pressure on patients and their GPs as out of pocket fees increased,” said RACGP President Dr Bastian Seidel.
“If you see your GP early you’ll save the whole community money by staying out of hospital – and receive GP health services that can cost up to ten times less,” said Dr Seidel.
In the Budget speech on Tuesday night, Treasurer Scott Morrison also announced the Government’s plans to install a Medicare Guarantee Bill.
In two years’ time, it plans to legislate a 0.5% increase in the Medicare levy – from 2.0% to 2.5% – in order to “close the funding gap” of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).
“Our decision to increase the levy reflects the fact that all of us have a role to play,” said the Treasurer.
In addition to additional funding for Medicare and medicines, Minister Hunt announced an investment of $374.2 million into My Health Record, following unanimous support for a national roll-out of My Health Record with every Australian to receive a record, or opt out if they so choose.
The Government will put $44.2 million towards a clinician-led review of the MBS to ensure best practice, and $44.5 million towards the Medical Services Advisory Committee to continue its work of amending and adding listings to ensure the health needs of Australians are best met.
The AMA has additionally expressed support for the Government’s measures to increase the prescribing of generic medicines “when it is safe and appropriate and discussed with the patient, and preserves doctors’ clinical and prescribing independence”, with savings to be invested back into the PBS.
Minister Hunt said the Budget has delivered on the Government’s “rock solid commitment” to Medicare and ensure Australia’s health system continues to be one of the best in the world.
“It ensures the essential healthcare services Australians rely on,” the Minister said.
“We want Australians to continue to have access to the best health care system in the world – and a strong, sustainable, best clinical practice Medicare is essential to this.”