The 2010 Federal budget – a healthy balance?

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Cube attended a post-budget discussion yesterday led by Chris Caton, Chief Economist at BT Financial Group, dissecting the 2010 Federal budget announcement. Contrary to 2009 forecasts – made during the height of the global economic crisis – the Government is aiming to drive the budget back into surplus within just three years.

As predicted, health is high on the priority list in this year’s budget. A total new investment of $7.3 billion in the National Health and Hospitals Network over five years hit the headlines yesterday, funded by major reforms and tax increases across three economic sectors.

Where have the savings been made?

The 2010 Federal budget – a healthy balance?

The 2010 Federal budget – a healthy balance?

Increases in tax revenue across three core sectors will be used to fund the pledged health reform. As pre-announced in the media two weeks ago, taxes on tobacco have increased by 25%; a $9 billion Resource Super Profit Tax on the mineral industry was announced last week; and significant reforms within healthcare through the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) and a new Community Pharmacy Agreement are predicted to deliver a total $2.5 billion in net savings over five years from 2010-11.

PBS reform plans began back in 2007 and are expected to generate about $6 billion in savings. Designed to take advantage of patent expiry, cuts to the price of prescription medicines are expected to generate $2 billion savings to the Government and about $300 million to patients over four years. Economic experts at the post-budget discussion suggested that leaning against the steady growth in PBS spending seen in recent years was an appropriate measure.

Where is the money going to be spent?

Whilst tax increases are not always popular and reforms can take time, the cuts will help fund the Government’s new health commitment. These savings will provide an additional $2.2 billion to meet the needs of Australia’s healthcare system, including:

  1. $355 million for almost 450 GP ‘Super Clinics’
  2. $417 million to enhance after-hours services, making them more streamlined
  3. $523 million to provide practice nurses in all GP surgeries  
  4. $467 million to rollout the national e-Health strategy, introducing individual electronic health records

Distilling the debate down to a grassroots level, patients may receive cheaper scripts, better access to GPs and practice nurses, shorter waiting lists for elective surgery and emergency department care, and better chronic disease management.

The current Government has placed a major focus in the national health system in an election year and time will quickly show the outcome of its decisions.

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Do we really care about self-care?

Do We Really Care About Self-Care?

Do We Really Care About Self-Care?

Ssshhhh – listen carefully and you’ll undoubtedly hear a lot of noise in Australia right now about ‘self-care’ and ‘preventative health’.

The Australian Self-Medication Industry (ASMI) recently released a Position Paper entitled ‘Increasing Access to Medicines to Enhance Self Care’, calling for Government and other stakeholders to make increased access to medicines a “fundamental plank of the emerging health policy landscape” as well as a more patient-centred approach to primary care – so all Australians can take greater control of managing own health where appropriate.

Encouragingly, the Minister for Health & Aging Nicola Roxon has been particularly vocal on the topic of self-care. She’s highlighted the need for industry and key organisations to drive change in preventative health, with reference to the Australian Preventative Health Legislation currently before the parliament and the draft National Primary Health Care Strategy.

Earlier this month, Ms Roxon attended ASMI’s annual conference and reiterated the Rudd Government’s commitment to ensuring Australians have the “support mechanisms” – such as access to medicines and services – to take better control of their own health. She also talked about the need for greater investment in “health literacy”.  (Worryingly, half of the Australian population is deemed illiterate within this context).

Nobody can argue there is much conversation, documentation and debate which is a definite step in the right direction. But when are we going to get some action and see policies become practice?

As Ms Roxon rightly reiterated, “good health requires individual and collective action”.

Speakers at the ASMI conference represented pharmaceutical companies, industry bodies and academia. All communicated a variety of views but they fundamentally agreed an evolution of Australia’s healthcare system, rather than a revolution, is what’s needed to achieve our self-care aims.

The right tools are in the self-care toolbox; we only need to tweak the way we deploy them. For example, a recent study revealed shifting treatment of the most frequent minor ailments from doctors to pharmacists would free up between 3 and 7 per cent of Australia’s GP workforce.

Do we care about self-care? The answer is a resounding ‘yes’. Now all stakeholders need to turn talk into tactics; only then can we all really believe the decision makers practice what they preach.

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