Medicare Local program funding secured, except for eHealth

Despite intense speculation that Medicare Locals will either be axed, consolidated or cut in next month's federal budget, funding for their program schedules has been extended for a year, except for eHealth programs.

In a newsletter to members yesterday, Hunter Medicare Local said that it had been advised last week “that all program schedules held by Medicare Locals (with the exception of eHealth) have been extended for at least 12 months”.

“At this point in time all we can definitely say is that all media reports are part of the normal pre-budget speculation and no one at Hunter ML or in the wider ML network is in a position to categorically refute the claims being made about cutting all Medicare Locals,” the newsletter said.

Hunter ML CEO Carol Bennett, who recently joined the organisation after several years heading the Consumers Health Forum, told the Australian Financial Review that Hunter ML had secured funding for at least the next year for ATAPS and Aboriginal health services.

In the letter to members, however, the Medicare Local says its eHealth program has been excluded. Each ML receives different funding for its programs, with those acting as eHealth “hubs” receiving more funds for eHealth than the “clusters” of two or three other MLs that they support.

Each ML has been funded to deliver training and advice to general practices, community pharmacies and allied health professionals on the PCEHR roll-out in addition to support and advice on secure messaging, ePrescriptions and other eHealth initiatives.

Department of Health figures show that some smaller MLs received between $200,000 and $400,000 to assist with the roll-out of the PCEHR between October 2012 and June 2014, while most received between $500,000 and $800,000 over the period.

Larger MLs that acted as hubs for their cluster received larger sums, such as WentWest and Hunter, which both received just over $1.2 million specifically for eHealth.

These funds are in addition to core funding and flexible funding, which can range up to $18m and $30m depending on each ML's size.

Health Minister Peter Dutton has repeatedly refused to comment on the future of Medicare Locals or the PCEHR, saying only that reviews had been held into both.

In a communique following the recent Standing Council on Health (SCoH) meeting of state and territory health ministers, Mr Dutton said the federal government was “committed” to an electronic health record and “will be working with the states and territories to implement it properly”.

While some media outlets have speculated that MLs will be axed completely, the Fin Review reported that it understood the 61 Medicare Locals will be reduced to approximately 16 groupings with larger catchment areas.

The predecessors to Medicare Locals, Divisions of General Practice, were first formed in 1992, and by 2008 there were 110 divisions. Most of those divisions consolidated to form MLs in 2011-2012.

Posted in Australian eHealth

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