08 May 2018
Tax cuts seized the post-budget headlines in Australia but in the healthcare sector there was more of a restrained commitment to the status quo than any wholesale sweetener. Critically though there were some very welcome measures, particularly regarding rural communities, mental health and the ageing population.
The government flagged a continued commitment to the country’s universal healthcare system, including measures which addressed the care needs of its ageing population.
"A business-as-usual approach [to health in the budget] will likely find broad public appeal.”
This business-as-usual approach will likely find broad public appeal, with pre-budget polling indicating healthcare is the top priority for Australians — ahead of housing affordability and even employment.
While ongoing funding for the traditional big-ticket items ‑ public hospitals, Medicare and the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme ‑ are at the core of the health budget, other key measures support activity in the sector, together with the people and businesses who are the human face of Australia’s healthcare system.
Rural communities are likely to benefit from The Stronger Rural Health Strategy, a system which aims to provide improved access to health services in regional areas.
Efforts to address rural health workforce shortages have historically relied greatly on financial incentives.
However, previous experience with rural life tends to improve the chances a practitioner will remain in rural practice, research suggests.
Practitioners who have grown up in rural areas and who access training and employment in an environment they’re familiar with are more likely to remain in rural practice in future.
Funding for end-to-end medical training through the Murray Darling Medical Schools network brings together resources from institutions across Victoria and New South Wales.
If training, recruitment and retention measures work together successfully they could improve the supply of medical professionals in rural areas and support more permanent staffing solutions for rural health providers.
Mental-health funding has attracted greater attention over recent years and Australia’s government has built further on this in 2018-19, allocating additional funding over four years for improved mental health services, focusing on people who have attempted or who are at risk of suicide.
This funding also covers further research into suicide prevention. While some commentators have expressed concern at the fragmented nature of mental health services the additional funding is a positive outcome for both providers and the community.
The budget also includes funding for an ambitious plan to advance Australia’s medical technology, biotechnology and pharmaceutical sectors, in a series of measures which will potentially inject billions into the economy and support the creation of thousands of jobs.
This represents a significant ongoing investment which will have a long-term positive impact for Australia’s medical technology, biotechnology and pharmaceutical sectors.
Australia’s population is ageing – this is news to nobody. The challenges for the wider community are addressed, to a degree, in this budget with an increased number of home care packages and residential aged care places.
While the additional home care places are welcome, a greater level of investment is needed to meet demand, now and in the future.
At the same time, it will be interesting to see how extending the Pension Loan Scheme to self-funded retirees influences that demand.
This scheme was previously only available to part and self-funded retires but has now been opened to all age pensioners who own their own home.
If consumers take up the scheme with significant enthusiasm it could potentially increase the use of self-funded care and in turn ease some of the demand for commonwealth-funded homecare places.
Richard Grayson is Head of Health, Business and Private Banking at ANZ
For more information on the budget’s impact for Australian healthcare, go to https://www.health.anz.com/insights
The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.
08 May 2018
09 May 2018