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Government policy ambitions trimmed

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Health Minister Sussan Ley is talking up the Health Care Homes trial and the MBS review as the Coalition Government recalibrates its policy ambitions following its scarifying Federal election experience.

Trying to prevent her term in office being defined by the widely disliked Medicare rebate freeze, Ms Ley insisted in an interview on ABC radio that her policy program was much broader and encompassed a range of measures to improve the delivery of health care including the modernisation of the Medicare Benefits Schedule, the Health Care Homes model of chronic care, the introduction of an opt-out national e-health record system and mental health reforms.

“That is just for starters,” she said. “We are embracing brave, forward-looking reform.”

But with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull virtually declaring Medicare off-limits during the election campaign and Treasurer Scott Morrison demanding that any new expenditure items must be fully offset by savings elsewhere, the Minister is yet to identify any new policy initiatives since being re-elected.

Instead, she has so far had to spend much of her time defending her performance during the election campaign and the Medicare rebate freeze, and re-defining the Government’s approach to upgrading Medicare’s software and payments systems.

“We have made very strong undertakings that the Medicare system will be modernised within Government and by Government, and I am looking forward to that because the existing system is about 30 years old and it is creaking a little and work needs to be done,” Ms Ley said.

Seeking to move the discussion of health policy beyond a focus on the Medicare rebate freeze and bulk billing, the Minister said, “I am not just focussing on one thing. There is so much more we are doing in health that is just not related to that.”

“A lot of things we are doing around hospital payments, around modernising the MBS, around the Health Care Home initiative…all of these things are all part of the discussion.”

While the Medicare rebate has stagnated since 2014, Ms Ley said the Government’s Health Care Home initiative would give GPs access to a new stream of revenue by providing “a different way of paying for quality health outcomes”.

But the Government could face problems trying to have parts of its policy agenda supported in Parliament.

The deal struck by Ms Ley with pathology and diagnostic imaging providers over the scrapping of the bulk billing incentive for their services has yet to be approved by Parliament, and was opposed by Labor during the election.

The Government is also facing opposition from some of the minor parties over its funding cuts to aged care.

Adrian Rollins

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