The new Australian Government promises nearly AUD 1 billion in investments to Medicare and general practices as part of a number of policy commitments to healthcare and aged care initiatives.
On 21 May 2022, Australia elected a new federal government, the Australian Labor Party. As part of its campaign, the newly elected Federal Government committed to a number of healthcare and aged care policy initiatives with a strong focus on improving quality and access to primary care. In summary, these include:
- Introducing over 50 Medicare Urgent Care Clinics
- Establishing a Medicare Taskforce
- Creating a GP Grants program
- Cutting medication costs
- Implementing recommendations made by the Aged Care Royal Commission.
On the other hand, the previously announced Treasury Laws Amendment (Tax Concession for Australian Medical Innovations) Bill 2022 (“Patent Box Bill“) was not enacted prior to the election and has now lapsed. The status of the Patent Box Bill will be subject to consideration by the new government. See our prior alert on the Patent Box Bill here for further information.
The following provides an overview of the key healthcare and aged care initiatives the Government plans to introduce.
Medicare Urgent Care Clinics
The Government has promised to establish over 50 Medicare Urgent Care Clinics to address urgent and time-critical healthcare needs that do not necessarily require treatment in a hospital emergency department. Medicare Urgent Care Clinics will be located across Australian in every State and Territory, and will be based in existing GP clinics and community health centres. Medical Urgent Care Clinics will bulk bill its costs so that there are no out-of-pocket expenses.
The Government will establish the Strengthening Medicare Taskforce and will invest A$750 million into delivering the outcomes of the Taskforce. The main objectives of the Taskforce are to coordinate with stakeholders, identify high priority areas, and make concrete recommendations by the end of the year. The Taskforce will be chaired by the Minister for Health and will bring together key policy leaders including the Australian Medical Association, the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, the Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine, the Consumer Health Forum, the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation, and representatives from nursing and allied health.
Medicare GP Grants program
The Government will invest AUD 220 million in grants to GPs under the Strengthening Medicare GP Grants program. The Grants will be provided to upgrade IT systems, upskill staff, purchase new equipment, and other projects. Depending on the size of the practice, Grants will be provided up to AUD 50,000. The Department of Health will administer the Grants and will require GPs to demonstrate how investments through the Grant will improve their services.
Cutting medication costs
To combat the soaring costs of living, the Government will cut costs to medications by reducing the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) co-payment from the current maximum of AUD 42.50 per script to a maximum of AUD 30.00 per script. The change will come into effect from 1 January 2023.
Commonwealth Seniors Health Card
From 1 July 2022, the income test for access to a Commonwealth Seniors Health Card will increase from AUD 57,761 to AUD 90,000 a year for singles and from AUD 92,416 to AUD 144,000. Seniors Health Card holders are eligible for cheaper medicine under the PBS, bulk billed doctor visits, refunds for medical costs exceeding the Medicare Safety Net, discounts on property and water rates, electricity and gas bills, ambulance, dental, eye care and public transport.
Newborn health screening
The Government will work with States and Territories to increase the number of genetic and early life conditions newborn babies are screened for from 25 to 80 conditions.
Regional mental telehealth services
The Government will reinstate Medicare Benefits Schedule item 288 and provide a 50% loading for rural and regional telehealth psychiatry consultations.
Shepherd Centres for children with hearing loss
The Government will establish three new Shepherd Centres. Shepherd Centres provide support services for children with hearing loss and help develop speech and communication skills. The Shepherd Centres will be established in Tasmania (Hobart and Launceston) and New South Wales (Macarthur). The Government will also support the development of the Shepherd Centres’ HearHub, an online health platform that provides clinical testing, educational and diagnosis tools for children with hearing loss.
National Nurse and Midwife Health Services
The Government will establish the National Nurse and Midwife Health Service to provide free, personalised and professional support services, information, advice, treatment and specialist referrals for nurses and midwives across all States and Territories. The program will be open to all enrolled and registered nurses, midwives and students.
National melanoma nurse network
The Government will expand the Melanoma Institute of Australia’s melanoma nurse program to provide up to 35 more melanoma nurses who can provide specialist support services for patients.
First Nations health
The Government will work with the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation and invest in the following commitments to reduce the gap in First Nations health outcomes:
- AUD 52.9 million for a First Nationals Health Worker Traineeship Program that will support up to 500 First Nations trainees to complete Certificate III or IV accredited training as Aboriginal health workers or practitioners;
- AUD 45 million for better renal services in both urban and remote locations across the country; and
- AUD 13.5 million combat rheumatic heart disease and fund portable echo-cardio machines and screening efforts.
Centre for Disease Control
The Government will establish an Australian Centre for Disease Control (CDC) which will work to prevent chronic and infectious diseases, improve pandemic preparedness, and lead the federal response to any future disease outbreaks.
Residential aged care is funded by both the Australian Government and contributions from residents. The Australian Government pays subsidies and supplements to approved providers for each resident receiving care.
24/7 nursing care
Following the recommendations by the Aged Care Royal Commission, the Government will improve staffing levels and support the aged care workforce by:
- requiring a registered nurse to be onsite 24 hours a day starting from July 2023;
- increase the average care time for aged care residents to 215 minutes per day (including 44 minutes with a registered nurse) starting from October 2024;
- supporting aged care workers’ submission to increase minimum wages for aged care employees in the ‘Work value case – Aged Care Industry’ currently before the Fair Work Commission;
- establishing a national registration scheme for personal care workers starting from mid-2023; and
- working with aged care providers, workers and unions to implement a preference for direct employment starting from January 2023.
Better food in aged care
The Government will also work with key stakeholders to put in place new mandatory aged care food standards and public reporting rules to improve standard and quality of food being served to aged care residents.
The Government will enact stronger penalties for providers who breach standards of care and new transparency measures. These measures include introducing:
- introducing a new General Duty of Care that must be guaranteed and will be backed up with a compensation regime if breached;
- criminal and civil penalties for serious breaches of the General Duty of Care;
- a new aged care complaints commissioner as part of a fast-tracked complaints process;
- whistle-blower protections;
- stronger investigative powers of the Aged Are Quality and Safety Commission;
- mandatory care time reporting (215 minutes a day per resident, including 44 minutes with a registered nurse); and
- mandatory reports on the expenditure of residents’ and taxpayers’ money as part of the Aged Care Financial Report which will be made publicly available on MyAgedCare.
The Government will cap Home Care administration and management fees and require providers to give Home Care recipients a monthly breakdown of fees and services delivered.