This year’s budget offers a commitment to boost primary health care being led by GPs around the country, writes PulseIT’s Kate McDonald.

 

The federal government is promising a new scheme to support patients with chronic diseases that includes extra funds for flexible care models that include non face-to-face consultations with the patient’s general practice.

Yesterday’s federal budget promised $448.5 million over three years from next year for the voluntary enrolment scheme, which will initially be aimed people over 70 but will be available for high-needs patients.

It will allow general practices to provide consultations, referrals, scripts and test results remotely, with usual services continuing to be rebatable for the patient under Medicare.

RACGP president Harry Nespolon said the announcement acknowledged the full extent of what a general practice does when caring for a patient.

“The RACGP was pleased to hear from the Health Minister that this is the first stage of a universal telehealth service and hopes to see this program rolled out to the broader community sooner rather than later in order to ensure that no patient misses out on the benefits of well-delivered holistic general practice care,” Dr Nespolon said.

AMA president Tony Bartone said the budget announcements have set up a “genuine health policy competition” for the upcoming election.

“The Health Minister, Greg Hunt, has listened closely to the AMA and delivered a strong health budget, with a particular emphasis on primary care, led by general practice,” Dr Bartone said.

“Australia’s hardworking GPs will be happy to see a commitment of almost $1 billion to general practice. This includes matching Labor’s promise to bring forward by a year the lifting of the freeze on rebates for a range of Medicare GP items.

“Overall, the government has delivered a much-needed significant investment to general practice – the driving force of quality primary health care in Australia.”

The budget also included $201.5 million over five years – including money already allocated last year – to increase quality improvements in general practice by increasing the amount of funding for the revised Practice Incentive Program Quality Incentive (PIP QI), and maintaining the current aged care incentive, which was due to be axed.

Dr Nespolon said the RACGP was pleased to see that a number of concerns it raised regarding the proposed PIP QI had been addressed, including the establishment of a profession-led data governance committee to oversee the implementation of the PIP QI.

Primary Health Networks will be given extra funding to upskill staff in data governance and practice support for quality improvement activities, with a formal review of PHNs’ roles in extracting data to be conducted within two years of operation.

Dr Nespolon said the college and the profession will be provided with full access to any collected primary care data, including any additional improvement measures collected by the PHNs in addition to the 10 required for the purposes of PIP–QI.

“Addressing these concerns was central to RACGP supporting the program, as we believe the process had to address data privacy and quality,” Dr Nespolon said. “As the keepers of patient records, GPs want to make sure that any information is treated as our patients expect. We believe these safeguards will ensure the integrity of patients’ data.”

The government has also followed Labor’s lead in promising to re-introduce indexation to all remaining GP services on the Medicare Benefits Schedule from July, and to index funding for diagnostic imaging services from next July for the first time in 20 years.

It has also made provision for the previously announced establishment of a website to improve transparency of out-of-pocket costs with a focus on specialist fees for gynaecology, obstetrics and cancer services.

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