MUCHE report: Budget represents the beginning of a healthcare reform journey

Professor Henry Cutler, Director of the Macquarie University Centre for the Health Economy (MUCHE)

The Macquarie University Centre for the Health Economy (MUCHE) analysis of the 2023 Budget acknowledges a coherent healthcare strategy and investments in workforce optimisation, evidence-based decision-making, and digital health reform as positive steps.

It also recognises the government’s commitment to the aged care sector and the efforts to alleviate pressure on emergency departments.

The report presents a balanced assessment of the budget, acknowledging both positive aspects and areas of concern. It recognises the existence of a healthcare strategy, with a focus on optimising the health and aged care workforce, evidence-based decision-making, and investment in digital health for reform. These initiatives are seen as positive steps in the right direction, indicating a commitment to improving the healthcare system.

The budget’s allocation of $10.9 billion to increase AN-ACC and home care package prices in response to the Aged Care Royal Commission is seen as a strong signal of the government’s commitment to the aged care sector. This funding is expected to enable providers to increase wages, thereby helping retain their workforce and attract more. However, questions are raised about how the distribution of additional revenue to staff will be monitored and enforced.

The efforts to alleviate pressure on hospital emergency departments through initiatives such as increased GP bulk billing incentives, improved after-hours primary care access, and the establishment of Urgent Care Clinics are seen as positive steps. However, the report acknowledges that the effectiveness of these measures is uncertain due to the lack of spare capacity in many parts of Australia and the challenges faced by the primary care sector.

On the other hand, the limited funding for mental health is cited as a concern, given research indicating an increased need in this area. While some support is provided for psychosocial services and psychology placements, critical shortages in the mental healthcare workforce are still prevalent.

The budget’s allocation of funding for recommended medicines is seen as a positive move, but the absence of significant policy changes for the pharmaceutical sector is noted. Additionally, the review highlights the criticisms raised by the Pharmacy Guild of Australia regarding the extension of medicine supply from 30 to 60 days.

While the centrepiece of the budget, the $3.5 billion increase in bulk billing incentives for GPs, is applauded in terms of policy sentiment, uncertainties are raised regarding future trends and the willingness of GPs to increase their bulk billing rates.

The full report can be found here.


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