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Govt moves to reform Medicare and rein in NDIS budget

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has unveiled plans for a $2.2 billion Medicare overhaul with measures including better access to after-hours care and a new patient ID system, as well as a framework to rein in ballooning NDIS costs.

Photo: AAP

Photo: AAP

The measures were unveiled following a national cabinet meeting in Brisbane on Friday, where state and territory leaders agreed to plans to reform Australia’s struggling healthcare system.

Measures will include boosting nurse numbers to improve access to primary care, with paramedics and pharmacists to play a greater role in the healthcare system.

Albanese said health would be “front and centre” for national cabinet in 2023, with a dedicated meeting on reform to take place later this year.

“One of the things identified is patients who will regularly turn up at emergency departments. We want to make sure there is registration there so we can reach out,” he said.

Australian Medical Association president Steve Robson said the need to keep people out of hospital had been “absolutely endorsed” by national cabinet.

“Recognising that it’s no longer a siloed thing … everybody has to work together if we’re going to find solutions that will make health more accessible for all Australians,” he said.

Royal Australian College of GPs president Nicole Higgins said the new funding program enabled practices to open for longer hours, meaning fewer people would turn up in crowded emergency departments.

Higgins said greater action was needed to cut down visa processing times for international medical graduates.

“We must cut red tape holding back more foreign doctors from working in Australia,” she said.

It comes as the latest AMA annual report card shows public hospital performance is at its lowest ever, struggling under the weight of ballooning surgery waitlists and emergency department presentations.

Professor Robson said the numbers paint a “grim picture for the future of our public hospitals and with them our patients if no action is taken”.

The report card found the number of public hospital beds available for people older than 65 years had dropped by more than half in the past three decades, from 32.5 beds per 1000 people to only 14.7.

Emergency departments had a particularly tough time in the past year and only 58 per cent of patients triaged as urgent were seen within the recommended 30 minutes.

One in three patients waited more than four hours in emergency, often because there were no beds available to admit them.

The association said clearing the surgery logjam, which would require extra funding and resources, should also be a priority.

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National cabinet also discussed the National Disability Insurance Scheme, committing to a framework to ensure it is made more financially viable.

This would set a target growth of no more than eight per cent by July 2026, with the scheme on track to be the most expensive item in the federal budget, eclipsing Medicare.

More than $720 million has been committed to boost the capability of the agency in charge of the scheme to better support participants.

“We need to have a sustainable growth trajectory for the NDIS in order to support equity and fairness for all Australians who are living with disability, including those not eligible for the NDIS,” Albanese said.

“We want to make sure the promise of the NDIS is fulfilled.”

State and territory leaders also agreed to support plans for national cabinet to develop reforms for improving the rights of renters.

“What we’re not seeking to do is to be absolutely uniform because different states will have different circumstances but there are measures and commitments every state and territory is doing something in this area,” Albanese said.

“There are a range of measures that will be considered by state and territory governments to strengthen the system of renters’ rights.”

National skills agreements were also on the agenda at the meeting, along with the energy transition to net-zero.

Ahead of the referendum on the Indigenous voice later this year, all leaders backed efforts to support the constitutional change.

-with AAP

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