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Budget 2018: who are the winners in health?

$8bn Medicare levy increase axed - Featured Image


The federal budget was a mixed bag for the health sector, but it delivered significant wins for aged care, rural health and medical research.

Treasurer Scott Morrison announced $1.6 billion over four years to allow 14,000 more elderly Australians to continue living in their home with extra in-home care places. This follows the 6,000 extra places already announced in December. However, given that there are more than 100,000 people on the waiting list for in-home care, the new places are “welcome, but are a drop in the ocean”, according to Associate Professor Helen Dickinson of the Public Research Group at UNSW.

Morrison also announced a $146 million plan to improve access to aged care service in rural areas and $83 million to support mental health services in residential care.

Meanwhile, an $83.3 million rural health strategy aims to place more doctors and healthcare professionals in rural areas, and includes a project to train an extra 100 GPs for work in rural areas.

The other big winner in terms of funding is medical research. The government has allocated $1.3 billion over ten years for a National Health and Medical Industry Growth Plan, including $500 for genomics research.

Here are some other health takeaways from the 2018 Budget:

  • No rise in the Medicare levy

An $8 billion rise in the Medicare levy to fund the NDIS had been originally pencilled in, but Scott Morrison backed away from the plan last month.

  • Fewer IMGs allowed to work in Australia

The government will allow 200 fewer international medical graduates into the country than previously planned, capping the yearly intake at 2,100 new IMGs. The government says this will save money, as Australian junior doctors who will take the place of the IMGs are paid at a lower rate.

IMGs will also be hit by a reduction in MBS fees paid to them, in order to fund a network of new rural medical schools in the Murray-Darling basin.

  • Extra money for PBS listings

The government is providing an additional $2.4 billion for new PBS listings and there will also be several new Medicare rebate numbers. These include a $400 rebate for prostate MRI, which urologists have been calling for for some time. There will also be a $114 rebate for 3D breast cancer scans. Around $700 million has been budgeted for the breast cancer drug ribociclib and the spinal muscular atrophy treatment nusinersen will also be subsidised for the first time.

On the other hand, there will no longer be rebates for MRI knee scans for patients over 55, for some sleep studies, or for spinal fusion to treat chronic low back pain.

  • Extra money for WA hospitals

Western Australian hospitals will get a $180 million funding boost, which will be directed to the Joondalup health campus, an expansion for the Osborne Park Hospital and the refurbishment of Royal Perth Hospital.

But there will be no new money for public hospitals in other states.

  • Free whooping cough vaccines for mums

The pertussis vaccine will be added to the National Immunisation Schedule for all expectant mothers, a measure expected to cost around $40 million.

  • Funds for Flying Doctors mental health outreach

The government will provide $84 million in funding to provide mental health nurses for remote and rural areas.

  • New funds for rare diseases

An extra $240 million will be allocated for clinical trials for rare cancers, rare diseases and diseases with unmet needs.

  • Measures to encourage use of generic drugs

New prescription software will enable prescribing of generics by default, with doctors having to manually override the system if they want to prescribe a branded drug. The measure is expected to shave $335 million from the budget.