Health groups have largely given the federal budget the thumbs up, calling it a win for Medicare and patients.
Australian Medical Association president Michael Gannon welcomed lifting the Medicare rebate freeze saying “the Government has claimed back a lot of the goodwill it lost with its disastrous 2014 budget”.
He said lifting the freeze from the start of July meant patients would be more likely to be bulk billed when they visit GPs and specialists.
“This means that we will not see patients thinking twice before visiting doctors,” he said.
“The changes to the safety net are good for pregnant women, people with chronic mental health problems and good for patients with cancer, who will need a lot of visits in a short time.”
The Consumers Health Forum chief executive Leanne Wells said the staged removal of the Medicare freeze should reduce pressure on Australia’s high out-of-pocket health costs.
“This health budget is a commendable attempt to rebalance priorities while seeking to establish a platform that provides hope for a future more effective health system that is both responsive to consumer needs but also delivers best bang for the buck,” Ms Wells said.
But she said the budget falls short on health prevention.
The Public Health Association’s Michael Moore said it was pleasing to see Medicare back on track.
The union representing nurses and midwifes said they have been “the big losers” in the budget.
Federal secretary Lee Thomas said nurses and midwives would be significantly affected by increased university fees and the lower repayment threshold.
She was also concerned about the four-year plan to unfreeze the Medicare rebate.
“We say that’s far too long, the indexation should in fact be replaced in this coming financial year,” she said.
Mental health gets budget boost
Ms Thomas said she welcomed the increased funding for mental health and suicide prevention.
Mental health expert Professor Pat McGorry said the budget was a winner for mental health research and treatment.
Butterfly Foundation chief executive Christine Morgan said she was pleased to hear Treasurer Scott Morrison refer to eating disorders in the same sentence as other serious mental illnesses.
Patients with severe eating disorders will be eligible for part of a new $80-million fund for people with severe mental illnesses.
The Rural Doctors Association also welcomed the greater investment in mental health, in particular access to telehealth and telemedicine for psychology services.
“The mental health burden in rural communities is massive and its important we see that investment,” the Association’s president Dr Ewen McPhee said.