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Health Budget safe and steady

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The AMA has labelled the 2018-19 Health Budget as “safe and steady”, but adds that it is notable as much for what is not to be found in it as it is for what is included.

Treasurer Scott Morrison has delivered a Federal Budget with an eye on the next federal election, promising tax relief for middle Australia, significant infrastructure investment and more funding for aged care.

On the health front, the establishment of a new 21st century medical industry plan to create more jobs and support more medical research projects is a major commitment.

This Budget includes an extra $1.4 billion for listings on the PBS, including medicines to treat spinal muscular atrophy, breast cancer, refractory multiple myeloma, and relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis, as well as a new medicine to prevent HIV.

The Government will also provide $154 million to promote active and healthy living, including $83 million to improve existing community sport facilities, and to expand support for the Sporting Schools and Local Sporting Champions programs.

It has dismissed a proposal for a single and separate Murray Darling Medical School, in favour of a network, in what Dr Gannon has described as a better approach 

Mr Morrison said the plan was to get more doctors to where they are needed through a new workforce incentive program.

“This plan includes the establishment of a new network of five regional medical schools within the broader Murray Darling Region,” Mr Morrison said when delivering his Budget Address to Parliament on Tuesday.

Dr Gannon said many of the rural health initiatives outlined Budget are a direct response to AMA rural health policies and the AMA Budget Submission.

“We welcome the Government’s strong focus in this Budget on improving access to doctors in underserviced communities, particularly rural Australia,” Dr Gannon said.

“The evidence shows that selecting medical students with a rural background and providing high quality training in rural areas are the most effective policy measures to address workforce maldistribution.

“The decision to reject the proposal for a stand-alone Murray Darling Medical School, in favour of a network, is a better approach with the Government instead pursuing a policy that builds on existing infrastructure to create end-to-end medical school programs.

“However, while the Government has made a welcome commitment not to increase Commonwealth-supported medical school places, it has taken the unnecessary step of compensating medical schools with additional overseas full-fee paying places.

“This will not address community need, and instead simply waste precious resources.”

Dr Gannon said overall, the Government had delivered a safe and steady Health Budget, which outlines a broad range of initiatives across the health portfolio.

Necessary funding to aged care, mental health, rural health, the PBS, and medical research, were all welcome commitments.

“But some of the bigger reforms and the biggest challenges are yet to come,” he said.

“Due to a number of ongoing major reviews, this Budget is notable as much for what is not in it as for what is in it.

“The major reviews of the Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) and private health are not yet finalised, and the ensuing policies will be significant.

“We are pleased that indexation has been restored to general practice and other specialty consultations, but new and considerable investment in general practice is missing.

“Also, the signature primary care reform – Health Care Homes – did not rate a mention.”

Dr Gannon said the AMA supports the establishment of the Workforce Incentive Program, which will incorporate and expand on the existing Practice Nurse Incentive Program and the GP Rural Incentive Program.

“This new funding program will increase the support available for general practices to employ other health professionals, including non-dispensing pharmacists, as part of a GP-led team-based approach to care,” he said

“Good health policy is an investment, not a cost,” Dr Gannon said.

“We look forward to the finalisation of the private health and MBS reviews, and the reforms that will flow from those processes.

“We anticipate more significant health policy funding announcements ahead of the next election.”