Budget 2024–25: what it means for health

Wednesday, 15 May, 2024

Budget 2024–25: what it means for health

Medicare, medications, women’s health, cancers, HIV and mental health were some of the key focus areas in the federal government’s 2024–25 Budget announcement.

The government has announced an overall spending of $146.1bn on health and aged care, with a five-year commitment to invest $10.7bn, including $8.5bn in health and $2.2bn in aged care. This includes $2.8bn investments to strengthen Medicare, $4.3bn to deliver cheaper medicines and $1.3bn for a fit and healthy Australia. Other key highlights include:

  • $227.0 million to grow the number of Medicare Urgent Care Clinics to 87.
  • $882.2 million to take pressure off hospitals. Funding will support states and territories to provide hospital outreach in the community, deliver virtual care to prevent avoidable hospitalisations and upskill the residential aged care workforce.
  • $361.0 million over four years to expand the range of free mental health services.
  • $69.8 million to increase the number of Medicare eligible MRI machines.
  • $266.9 million so Medicare rebates rise each year for nuclear medicine imaging and many common medical tests.
  • $91.1 million to boost the supply of health care in areas of shortage.
  • $469.1 million to reduce patient costs and improve access to medicines.
  • $3.4 billion to list new medicines on the PBS.
  • $18.8 million for clinical trials.
  • $1.4 billion over 13 years in groundbreaking new health and medical research.
  • $25.3 million to prevent skin cancer, now and in the future.
  • $38.8 million to continue funding for free bowel cancer screening.
  • $43.9 million to work towards eliminating HIV transmission by 2030.
  • $132.7 million to boost sports participation.
  • $49.1 million for higher Medicare rebates to see a gynaecologist for complex conditions.
  • $56.5 million for new Medicare services for midwives to provide longer consultations before and after the birth of a child.

Support for nurses and midwives

The Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF) welcomed the new Medicare rebates for midwives to provide longer consultations before and after childbirth; additional bulk-billed, urgent care clinics; higher Medicare rebates for women to see a gynaecologist for endometriosis and access to longer consultations; expanded, free mental health services; new PBS listings for invasive breast cancer and heart disease and bowel cancer screening; and increased Commonwealth contributions to the cost of care under the National Health Reform Agreement.

Annie Butler, Federal Secretary, ANMF, said tax cuts, $1.1 billion in superannuation contributions for paid parental leave (PPL), funding for further wage rises for aged care workers, paid clinical placements for nursing and midwifery students and reductions in HECS debts would also help ease the ever-increasing cost-of-living pressures for frontline nurses, midwives and care workers.

Primary care — a lost opportunity?

The Australian Medical Association said that after laying strong groundwork in last year’s Budget and reaching an important agreement at the December 2023 National Cabinet meeting, this Budget is a lost opportunity to make further progress in addressing key health system challenges, including greater funding and support for patients to access care in general practice.

Australian Medical Association President Professor Steve Robson said, “More urgent care clinics is not a long-term strategic solution, and the government keeps looking to fund more of them without proper evaluation of their impact. What we need is reform that enables general practice to deliver the primary care that our patients need, not piecemeal announcements and changes that further fragment the system.”

Professor Robson said every general practice has the capacity to provide urgent care and the AMA would have liked to see the government improve funding arrangements for general practice so patients can see their usual GP when they need to, including out of normal business hours, along with changes to encourage more doctors to take up general practice.

“Australia has a GP shortage that will only get worse. We need to encourage more doctors to take up general practice by ensuring GP trainees are offered equitable employment conditions in comparison to their hospital counterparts. And we need an independent planning agency to ensure that the future health workforce meets community need.”

Mental health — a step closer, but a long way to go

Australians for Mental Health welcomed the Budget response to the country’s mental health crisis. “Ensuring that every Australian can access the quality mental health care they need, where and when they need it, at a price they can afford, must be an urgent national priority. This Budget helps get us a step closer to that goal,” Australians for Mental Health CEO Chris Gambian said.

“It is important to recognise that measures to reduce living pressures such as rent assistance and energy rebates are valuable mental health measures, because they will also help to reduce pressure which we know can trigger, or exacerbate, people’s level of mental distress,” Gambian said.

Despite hopes for significant funding to bolster Australia’s mental health workforce, The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists said the Budget falls short of making sustainable and tangible investments in that direction.

The RANZCP President Dr Elizabeth Moore said the pressing need for growing our mental health workforce to care for Australians living with acute mental illness and psychological distress cannot be overlooked.

“Over the past few months, we have reached a national consensus on the workforce crisis within our mental health system.

“Without enough specialists to treat complex, chronic and severe mental illnesses, hospitals are merely buildings, and clinics are just rooms.

“We are disappointed by the absence of any substantial commitment to grow the number of psychiatrists and mental health workers, which are fundamental to mental health reform.”

Moore said the stopgap commitments announced in the Budget to tackle mental health access issues are welcome, but without any meaningful investment in workforce they will fail to make a real and lasting impact on Australia’s mental health crisis.

Private health and care inequity

Catholic Health Australia (CHA) urged the federal government to take action to shore up the struggling private health system. “The government has ignored a critical part of the health system that performs two-thirds of elective surgeries in this country, missing an opportunity to take pressure off public hospitals,” CHA CEO Jason Kara said.

Private health insurer Bupa said further modernisation of our health system through the continued investment in My Health Record will strengthen the country’s mixed healthcare system. “These improvements in digital health care will create a more connected healthcare experience with consumers at its centre,” said Bupa in a statement.

Bupa also urged the government to continue to prioritise reform in the private health sector to meet the changing health and wellbeing needs of Australians. “Policy settings need to be updated so we can provide more value for customers, offer greater out of hospital care, and incentivise higher participation by younger people,” the statement said.

The federal budget fails to address the ongoing healthcare inequity between rural and urban Australia, according to the National Rural Health Alliance.

“The Budget falls short of our expectations. It is disheartening to observe the government’s lack of responsiveness to rural voices and its failure to commit to comprehensive reforms that would offer sustainable and long-term benefits for rural communities,” said Nicole O’Reilly, Chairperson of the National Rural Health Alliance.

Image credit: iStock.com/relif

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