Is a Medicare shake-up coming?

Article published 17 February 2023

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ANYONE who has been struggling to find a GP who bulkbills knows that reform is urgently needed for Medicare.

Medicare was supposed to be a health system that provides everyone with quality healthcare no matter their income, but it has become increasingly unfit for purpose.

Many people with low incomes are left delaying healthcare and presenting to emergency departments with easily preventable problems that could have been managed by primary care, that is, by seeing a GP.

The Productivity Commission’s Report on Government Services 2023 found that in 2021-22 the number of Australians delaying seeing a GP due to the cost increased by almost 50 per cent compared to 2020-21. This figure isn’t likely to get better any time soon.

Earlier this month the Strengthening Medicare Taskforce Report was released. The aim of this taskforce is to ensure the primary health care system is equitable, affordable, easy to navigate and patient centred. The taskforce also hopes to promote continuity of care and cooperation amongst health care professionals.

It has proposed some big reforms for Medicare, including team-based primary care that gives nurses and allied health professionals a bigger role in primary care. It has also suggested blended funding models alongside fee-for-service arrangements to provide funding for longer consultations and incentives to promote better patient outcomes.

While these suggestions have been welcomed by many, some are concerned this will be too little too late.

For starters, most of the interventions suggested are long-term plans that will take time to fully take effect.

No matter how good these ideas are, they offer little relief to those who are currently unable to afford a trip to the GP.

There’s also the concern that no information on what will be implemented is going to be published until the May Budget.

There is already $750 million set aside for Medicare reforms, but if nothing is going to be announced until the Budget, it means we’re unlikely to see any changes before July this year at the earliest.

That’s at least another four months of waiting before we can hope to see any change.

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