Improving Medicare and Hearing Services

The Commonwealth Government will invest $947.1 million over four years to tackle the growing burden of chronic disease in the community, and improve the delivery of health and medical services to those people most in need.

Page last updated: 08 May 2007

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8 May 2007
ABB 50/07

The Commonwealth Government will invest $947.1 million over four years to tackle the growing burden of chronic disease in the community, and improve the delivery of health and medical services to those people most in need.

This Budget increases access to doctors, services and technology with a particular focus on our community’s most vulnerable members such as the chronically ill.

The package of new funding measures includes:

  • $291.3 million to improve the quality of care for patients with, chronic medical conditions;
  • $377.6 million to help people with chronic medical conditions whose oral health is impacting, or is likely to impact upon their chronic medical condition, through changes to Medicare;
  • $70.7 million for improved access to hearing services particularly among the elderly;
  • $94.1 million over five years for new and revised Medicare Benefit Schedule (MBS) items;
  • $71.8 million to improve after-hours GP care;
  • $16.4 million for three new Medicare-eligible Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) units in geographic areas of need; and
  • $12.2 million over four years to extend the program of assistance for survivors of torture and trauma.

Chronic and complex conditions – supporting patient care

Patients with chronic and complex conditions will receive better care under a $291.3 million national initiative to make consultant physician services more accessible and affordable.

The Government will provide funding for new Medicare items to recognise the additional time involved in consultant physician services for treating patients with chronic and complex illnesses.

Supporting longer consultations will enable patients with multiple medical problems to receive comprehensive care in the one session, improving their health outcomes.

The Medicare items will also encourage new medical graduates to undertake training in the non-procedural specialities.

Rural patients will benefit as the new items will make private practice in rural areas more viable.

A total of $57.0 million will be spent on other continuing measures to address chronic disease including:
  • $22.4 million will be invested to continue the Sharing Health Care Initiative to help patients better manage chronic medical conditions. To date, through more than 20 projects, many thousands of Australians with chronic illness have been helped; and
  • A total of $34.6 million will be spent over four years to allow an additional 800 general practices to participate in the Australian Primary Care Collaboratives program to better treat and assist people with, or at risk of, chronic disease.

Dental treatment – enhanced Medicare items for patients with chronic and complex conditions

People with chronic conditions and complex care needs often have poor oral health which can adversely affect or exacerbate their medical condition or general health.

The Commonwealth Government is therefore committing $377.6 million over four years to make it easier for these people to access dental services in the private sector when they need treatment or to receive preventive care.

This will provide another avenue for dental services for these people, which will be particularly helpful for those who would otherwise have to wait for services.

Eligible patients will be able to claim Medicare benefits for a diagnostic dental consultation, as well as Medicare benefits for a range of dental treatment services up to a maximum of $2,000
(including Extended Medicare Safety Net benefits) each calendar year.

It is expected that around 200,000 patients will access the dental care items over the first four years of this measure.

In other dental measures in this Budget, the Commonwealth is investing in the new School of Dentistry and Oral Health at Charles Sturt University; funding up to 30 annual clinical placements for dentistry students in established rural training settings; and creating dental scholarships for Indigenous students through the Puggy Hunter Scholarship Scheme.

Hearing Services Program – improving hearing outcomes

The Budget also commits $70.7 million over four years to ensure better access to hearing services for those most in need, in particular the elderly. This includes:
  • New clients of the Hearing Services Program will receive additional help to ensure that they make best use of their free-to-client hearing devices.
  • Australian Hearing will receive additional funds to deliver the Community Service Obligation (CSO) Program to the agreed service standards, to improve the quality of hearing devices for CSO clients and to upgrade FM systems for children to use in classrooms.
  • Access to the Hearing Services Program will be improved by working with GPs to ensure that they have access to appropriate information when they are assessing a patient’s suitability for hearing services.
The Budget also provides additional funding for improvement in hearing research as well as hearing loss prevention activities.

Medicare Benefits Schedule – better access to after hours GP services

A $71.8 million package will support improved access to after hours GP services under Medicare. This will benefit children and the elderly, who are more likely to need after hours home visits.

An increased flat-rate MBS rebate of $83.50 for urgent after hours GP home visit services will be introduced from 1 November 2008 for the hours 6-8pm weekdays and 12-1pm Saturdays.

The current rebates for these times vary according to the length and complexity of the service as well as the number of patients seen in a visit. For example, the current rebate for a standard home visit by a Vocationally Recognised GP between 6pm and 8pm on weekdays, or between 12pm and 1pm on Saturdays, ranges from $33.75 up to $54.55, depending on the number of patients seen.

From 1 November 2008, the same service between those hours will attract a higher flat-rate rebate of $83.50.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging – improved access

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) plays a critical role in the diagnosis and treatment of many diseases and conditions affecting Australians.

The Government will fund three new Medicare-eligible MRI units at a cost of $16.4 million over four years in geographic areas of need.

A decision on the location of the new units will be taken following an analysis of health and population data in potential areas of need that are not well serviced by existing Medicare-eligible MRI facilities.

The Budget also includes an additional start-up grant of $1.5 million over three years for the new Medicare-eligible MRI unit that opened in Dubbo (NSW) in December 2006. Half a million dollars has already been provided for the first year of operation. Approximately 100,000 people in central-western NSW will have access to this MRI service.

Since 1998 the Government has significantly expanded the number of Medicare-eligible MRI units from 18 to what will be 115 units, once the three new units are in place.

In other measures…
  • An additional $94.1 million will be provided to fund 91 new minor and revised MBS items. Changes to 84 existing items are also being introduced under the Budget. For example, minor changes will be made to the rules applying to after hours items to make them easier to use and enable more doctors to offer after hours services. New allied health items will also provide group intervention services for people with type 2 diabetes.
  • The Program of Assistance for Survivors of Torture and Trauma will be expanded with an additional $12.2 million in funding.
Media Contact: Claire Kimball 0413 486 926

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