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Key Changes to Australia’s Medicare Reforms

Enhancing Healthcare Access

  • Posted: May 26, 2023

Significant changes have recently been announced to Medicare, aiming to improve healthcare access and sustainability across Australia. These reforms encompass increased subsidies, rebates to expand telehealth services and funding initiatives. This article will explore the key changes and their potential impact on practitioners, patients, and the overall health system.

  1. Enhanced Medicare Subsidies: Under the new reforms, children and concession card holders in metropolitan areas bulk billed by a GP will receive a Medicare subsidy of $60.40, compared to the current standard rebate of  $39.75. In regional areas, this subsidy will increase to $71.15, and in the most remote areas, it will extend to $79.40. This change ensures that vulnerable populations have improved access to affordable healthcare services.
  2. Increased Medicare Rebates: To provide fair compensation for medical services, Medicare rebates will be increased twice in 2023. By the end of the year, the current level B MBS item will be raised from $39.75 to $41.40. This adjustment acknowledges the value of healthcare services and supports practitioners in delivering quality care.
  3. New MBS Items and Incentives: A new MBS item, Level E, will be introduced, offering a rebate of $183.66 for 60-minute consultations. This rebate will further increase to $205 when incentives for children and pensioners are added. These measures aim to address the complex healthcare needs of patients and encourage comprehensive care practices.
  4. Workforce Incentive Program (WIP) Boost: The Workforce Incentive Program (WIP) will receive an increase to $130,000, aiming to attract and retain healthcare professionals in regional and rural areas. This funding boost ensures that patients in underserviced regions have access to quality healthcare services.
  5. Extended Telehealth Consultations: The new MyMedicare system, will allow patients to register with their doctor, not only supporting continuity of care but also unlocking extra benefits such as longer telehealth sessions. In an effort to adapt to the growing demand for telehealth services, the reforms include longer GP telehealth consultations. This change provides patients with convenient access to healthcare professionals, especially in cases where in-person visits are challenging.
  6. Funding Packages for General Practices: To address the needs of patients who frequently utilise hospital services, new funding packages will be provided to general practices. These packages enable practices to offer comprehensive care, reducing the burden on hospitals and improving patient outcomes.
  7. Focus on Wound Care: Eligible Patients (over the age of 65 and the age of 50 years for first nations individuals) with diabetes and chronic wounds will benefit from dedicated attention to wound care. The reforms will allocate $47.8 million to the Chronic Wound Consumables Scheme, which offers subsidised wound care materials to eligible individuals. The scheme will reduce complications and hospital admissions associated with chronic wounds, through funding education and training. My Health Record will become more integrated within this scheme to support data sharing and resulting in better coordination of care, reducing the duplication of services and saving costs.
  8. Strengthening the Rural Workforce:  The reform will boost the current workforce shortage in regional and rural regions through scholarships and funding initiatives to attract and retain practitioners to lessen disparities in healthcare access.
  9. Expanded Role of Nurse Practitioners: The reform identifies nurse practitioners provide valuable contribution to the healthcare system and requires continued support. The reforms will provide a rebate for more nurse practitioner services to ensure patients can receive comprehensive care.
  10. Increasing the Number of Nurses in Primary Care: Funding will support an additional 6,000 clinical placements over four years, aiming to increase the number of nurses in primary care. Additionally, 500 nurses will be supported in returning to the workforce. These measures contribute to a stronger healthcare workforce and improved patient care.
  11. After hours Care: The implementation of after-hours programs by Primary Health Networks is a significant step towards enhancing healthcare accessibility. Patients will be able to access quality primary care services at any hour, ensuring that healthcare is available when it is needed the most.
  12. Focusing on multidisciplinary teams: The reforms include increased funding for multidisciplinary teams, with a substantial budget of $500 million. This funding enables general practitioners to recruit a diverse team of healthcare professionals, including physiotherapists and nursing staff. The majority of this funding will be directed towards increasing the highest incentive payment that clinics can claim, raising it to $130,000 annually. This investment not only supports the recruitment of a skilled and well-rounded healthcare team but also promotes collaborative and comprehensive care for patients, leading to improved health outcomes.

The recent Medicare reforms bring positive changes to healthcare access and sustainability in Australia for practitioners and patients. With increased subsidies, rebates, and funding initiatives, vulnerable populations and underserviced regions will benefit from improved access to healthcare services and health care service providers will receive further support to ensure quality care is delivered to the community.