Keeping a watching brief on the Federal Budget measures

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The Federal Budget was a ‘no surprises’ document for the private hospital sector, but featured a number of initiatives for the health sector, says Australian Private Hospitals Association CEO Mr Michael Roff.

“While there are no stand out hits or misses for the private hospital sector, like any Budget the detail will reveal more of the story as it emerges over the coming weeks. We will maintain a watching brief as more information emerges from Government and other sources.

“On the face of it there are some very positive measures for health. A commitment to Medicare will be welcomed by many and moves to invest more heavily in mental health, particularly for veterans with whom private hospitals do a great deal of work, is good to see.

“It remains to be seen what impact the slow thaw of the Medicare Rebate Freeze will have on specialists out of pocket costs and how that might impact patients choices when it comes to choosing private over public hospitals,” he said.

One area where private hospitals may see an impact is on specialists. Some in the profession may be disappointed that while attendance items will unfreeze next year, procedural items will not follow until July 2019, while diagnostic and interventional radiology items remain frozen until 2020. This could mean several years of increased out of pockets for private patients before relief is provided.

Mr Roff said it will be interesting to see what the ‘compacts’ created between major lobby groups and the government will involve. These will support the Budget measures and will sit alongside the Health Minister’s ‘four pillars of the health system’.

One immediately obvious spin off from these compacts was the announcement that the Pharmacy Guild had won compensation for lost revenue as a result of lower volumes than expected in the 6th community pharmacy agreement. The Minister has also confirmed the pharmacy location rules will remain.

In addition, the Budget promised to move to an opt out model for the My Health Record by the end of 2018.

“There are several issues for private hospitals that need to be resolved. It remains to be seen whether the planned $2.8 billion in additional Commonwealth funding to public hospitals will result in any meaningful decrease in waiting times Australians in this system,” Mr Roff said.

At a post-Budget briefing, the Minister confirmed he was keen to pursue the issue of private patients in public hospitals in the context of the negotiation of the next health care agreement with the states.

Mr Roff attended the briefing and reported that the Minister conceded it was not practical to ban the practice, but he was concerned that hospitals in some states were pressuring patients to make a private election, while receiving no additional benefits.

“APHA has discussed this issue with the Minister on several occasions and will soon be presenting him with some practical options to reduce outlays for health funds and free up public beds for public patients,” Mr Roff said.

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