Budget 2014: $140.6m for PCEHR for one year

The federal government has allocated $140.6 million for the 2014-2015 financial year to continue the operation of the PCEHR for one year while it considers its response to the Royle review into the system.

The Department of Health itself will undergo a “capability review” from June “to ensure it has the processes, systems and expertise in place to deliver the government’s policies and achieve results for the Australian public”, while the government appears to have accepted John Horvath's report into the function of Medicare Locals in full.

Medicare Locals are set to be renamed Primary Health Networks from July next year, the budget papers say, with funding to come from the existing resources of the Department of Health.

On the PCEHR, the papers say that the government will fund the system to the tune of $140.6m – $118.8m for the Department of Health, $20.8m for the Department of Human Services and $100,000 for the Department of Veterans Affairs, along with $1m to DHS in “related capital” – for the 2014-15 period.

It will also “continue to work with stakeholders with regard to the recommendations from the recent review of the PCEHR to determine how best to proceed with national shared electronic health records, to support improved productivity across the health sector and greater convenience for providers and patients”.

The eHealth Practice Incentives Payment (ePIP) program will continue, and the planned evaluation of the Telehealth Pilots Program will also be conducted, with the pilots concluding at the end of September 2014.

From July 2015, previously bulk-billed patients can expect to pay $7 for a standard GP consultation and for out-of-hospital pathology and imaging services.

By July 2015, the government will contribute approximately $37.70 for each typical GP service, less $5 which will to be diverted to a new Medical Research Future Fund. The fund is designed to grow to comprise $20 billion within six years, allowing for the provision of medical research expenditure of around $1 billion by 2022-2023.

On Medicare Locals, the budget papers say the government will move to establish Primary Health Networks (PHNs) from next July, in line with Professor Horvath's review.

“There will be fewer, but larger, PHNs in the new network that will replace Medicare Locals,” the budget papers say. “PHNs will be clinically focused and responsible for improving patient outcomes in their geographical area by ensuring that services across the primary, community and specialist sectors align and work together in patients’ interests.

“In 2014-15, PHNs will be established through an open and competitive tender process in readiness for operation from 1 July 2015. The Commonwealth will no longer fund the Australian Medicare Local Alliance from 30 June 2014.

“PHNs will be aligned to Local Hospital Networks (LHNs) and will improve frontline service delivery by working to integrate the primary, community and secondary sectors for the benefit of patients. A key focus of the PHNs will be working collaboratively with LHNs to reduce hospital admissions and re-admissions.”

For the time being, the government will target funding through Medicare Locals to address regional health priorities.

It will continue to support Healthdirect Australia and its nurse triage and after-hours GP helplines, and the National Health Services Directory (NHSD), which is also run by Healthdirect. Healthdirect's plan to add secure messaging and telehealth addresses to the NHSD will go ahead.

The Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care – which runs an independent governance committee overseeing the PCEHR – along with the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, the Independent Hospital Pricing Authority and the National Hospital Performance Authority, are set to be merged into one body, but this is subject to the approval of COAG.

There is no mention of ongoing funding for the National E-Health Transition Authority (NEHTA) in the budget papers. NEHTA is co-funded by COAG and its future will presumably depend on COAG's agreement on continuing its funding or closing it down.

Posted in Australian eHealth

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