Budget 2015: Govt planned for $700m investment in PCEHR
The big-ticket item for eHealth in this year's budget – the multi-million dollar investment in the PCEHR for a further four years – was originally provisioned to be $700m, according to the budget papers.
Tonight's budget confirms that the government will provide $485.1 million over four years to continue the operation of the PCEHR, make some improvements and implement trials of opt-out arrangements.
The budget papers also reveal that the government originally thought $700m would be required. It is now claiming the difference as savings that will be redirected to fund other health policy priorities or be reinvested into the Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF).
The MRFF turned out to be another big winner on budget night, with the government promising it would return $10 million this financial year and more than $400 million over the next four years.
However, this will come at the expense of other programs such as preventative health research, any GP Super Clinic that has not commenced construction, and the Department of Health's flexible funds, which are discretionary funds used by DoH for worthy projects.
Cutting flexible funds and preventative health research will achieve “savings” of $962.8 million over five years from the current financial year, the government says, which may be invested in the MRFF.
While Health Minister Sussan Ley said expenditure on health overall would see a moderate increase of $2.3 billion over last year to $69.7 billion, the budget papers show the extent of the cuts to public hospital funding announced in last year's budget.
The change to the funding formula announced last year will see the growth in federal expenditure on hospitals plummet by up to 10 per cent a year to 2018-2019. This is despite increasing costs to the states and is expected to see a shortfall of up to $57 billion over 10 years.
New spending includes an extra $1.3 billion over four years listing new medicines and vaccines on the PBS and to set up a National Cancer Screening Register, with the introduction of a new screening test for cervical cancer.
Extra funds will be given to the Royal Flying Doctor Service, and funds for after-hours GP services previously allocated to the After Hours GP Hotline and Medicare Locals will be clawed back and redirected to a new after-hours GP practice incentive program (PIP).
Ms Ley said the government will also continue working with stakeholders on the development of a National Diabetes Strategy due for release in late 2015. This is expected to include the use of eHealth as part of an integrated approach.
The government has also returned $200 million in funding support for the state and territory governments for dental services that it stripped in last year's budget.
Smaller items include extending Medicare eligibility for telehealth to optometrists to support the use of video conferencing with ophthalmologists, and an MBS item to enable routine monitoring of implanted cardiac devices to be provided remotely.
In early reaction to the budget, the Australian Medical Association said the modest positive measures in the budget were still overcome by the “lingering profound negative effects” of last year's budget.
AMA president Brian Owler said there was a clear inference in the government's statements that its planned review of the MBS was expected to be a savings exercise. He also criticised the continuation of the hospital funding policy, saying it had been “savagely” cut in last year's budget.
He welcomed the investment in the PCEHR and some funding for Aboriginal Community Controlled health organisations this year, but took a swipe at the lack of detail in both the budget and at the pre-budget briefing sessions or lock-ups.
A/Prof Owler said it was evident that the health sector was not impressed with the withholding of budget detail in the health budget lock-up.
“It was insulting to have the leaders of Australia’s health organisations locked in a room with no budget detail,” he said.
Posted in Australian eHealth