No-surprises Budget, but no answers either

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The 2015 Budget held no surprises, with many of the significant budget measures having been leaked days or even weeks ago, says the PSA.

But PSA says the elephant in the room with the Budget is the Sixth Community Pharmacy Agreement, for which there were no answers forthcoming.

The Acting National President of PSA, Michelle Lynch, says examination of the 2015-16 Budget papers reveals the Government is still committed to lifting the safety net threshold by two prescriptions and 10% each year (for general and concessional patients respectively).

“This measure is from last year’s Budget, and hasn’t even been approved by Parliament yet,” Lynch says.

“Tonight’s Budget papers note a renewed start date of 2016 with the increases  pushing out to 2019. This measure is at odds with the Government’s recent policy announcements proposing a $1 discretionary PBS co-payment discount in the 6CPA.

“As PSA has previously stated, we are concerned that such a measure will negatively impact consumers, leading to less affordable access to medicines for Australians with chronic diseases, which we know in turn impacts health outcomes.”

The Budget papers said the savings made from this measure, to be phased in over three years, would go ‘to other health priorities’.

“Without knowing what these other priorities are, PSA believes this measure is a backwards step, and may do more harm than good in the longer term,” Lynch says.

She says the Government also announced it would refocus after-hours primary care funding, but has only funded GPs to be involved in these services, through practice incentives.

“This ignores other key primary health professionals such as pharmacists who are an integral part of after-hours care, as acknowledged by the recent Victorian Government budget announcement to support 24/7 pharmacies,” she says.

“PSA has initiated a successful collaborative after-hours model with GPs in Canberra and we urge the Government to broaden the scope of this incentive to include pharmacists.

“The positives in the Budget include the previously announced review of MBS services.  It was revealed at budget lockup that of the current 5,700 services covered by the MBS, only 3% had ever been assessed for effectiveness.

“PSA advocates for evidence-based services and this review is a strong step in that direction for the MBS which could see substantial savings.

“The PSA believes that this could create opportunities for investment in evidence-based pharmacist services.”

Lynch says the announcement of a Primary Health Care Advisory Group is also welcomed and PSA would expect to see pharmacists as integral members of this group.

Another potential positive for consumers and the health system is the invigoration of electronic health records, she says.

The Government expects to save $A2.5 billion a year through the $485 million rescue package for the eHealth record initiative which will now be an opt-in rather than an opt-out system.

Whilst Government confirmed that some of the funding will go toward education for health practitioners, funds will also be used to incentivise GPs to participate in the scheme.

Disappointingly, there was no mention of other practitioners accessing this incentive, Lynch says.

The Government’s review of eHealth records identifies that the majority of savings to be realised through this measure is through more appropriate medication management – so participation of pharmacists in the development of this budget measure will be critical.

Outside of the health portfolio, the PSA welcomed the $5.3 billion small business package, which should be positive for community pharmacies, with tax breaks applying to businesses with annual turnover under $2 million.

“That said,  PSA is deeply concerned that the benefits derived through this small business package could be undermined by some of the 6CPA policy proposals on the table,” Lynch says.

“Most importantly, PSA doesn’t want to see patient health compromised through increased co-payment and safety net thresholds.

“Savings identified in the Budget papers through PBS price disclosure will total $3.1 billion in 2018-19.

“These savings should be reinvested in ensuring patients receive access to affordable evidence-based pharmacist care.”

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