Reflections on the 2017 Federal Budget and what it means for GP's Image

Reflections on the 2017 Federal Budget and what it means for GP's

One week on from the 2017 Federal Budget, some of the dust has settled on the announcements and we are in a position to assess whether there really was much new in the way of increased support for the sector.

What we know

In the lead up to Budget night, the Federal Government worked closely with both the RACGP and AMA to trade off an end to the Medicare freeze in exchange for ongoing support of the MyHealth Record system, reviews of the MBS and tightening access to after-hours claims. Both organisations have defended their negotiations with the Government, claiming that they are a first step towards increased recognition of the value of general practice care.

The good news is that the Turnbull Government has pledged $10 billion to healthcare including the withdrawal of the Medicare indexation freeze and the establishment of a Medicare Guarantee Fund to ensure longevity of health care and access to medicines. Some of this funding is for new programs and some is confirming allocations previously announced. All of the initiatives are yet to be passed, so depending on where we end up some initiatives may not get the green light.

The funding for these announcements will come from a proposed increase in the Medicare Levy by 0.5 per cent from July 2019 in a move that will cost workers on average earnings $400 a year.

A slow melting of the Medicare Freeze

The government announced that it would resume indexation for:

  • GP bulk billing incentives from July 1, 2017,
  • Standard GP and specialist consultations from July 1, 2018
  • Specialist procedural and allied health from July 1 2019.

The budgeted cost of these changes in year one is just $9m, which is indicative of the slowness of the unfreezing measures. Indeed, even after July 2018, the rebate for a B level consult will increase by only around 55 cents. There is no evidence that the thawing will apply to services such as GP care plans.

With increasing bulk billing rates, there seems little pressure on the Government to allocate more funding towards the GP sector. The Government’s statement that they are “recognising and rewarding General Practitioners” seems somewhat hard to swallow.

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