A Medicare review initiated by the federal government has been criticised for not providing tangible recommendations to address immediate problems in Australia’s healthcare system.
The task force made up of medical experts and patient advocates looked at how best to spend the $250 million-a-year fund to strengthen Medicare and possible measures to improve healthcare affordability, support people with chronic health conditions and take pressure off hospitals.
Recommendations included improving access and affordability of general practice care and reforms to use the health workforce better and improve the My Health Record system.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said health care reform was his government’s first priority in collaboration with state and territory leaders.
Yet the head of the Australian Medical Association, the peak body representing doctors, said the report had nothing in it to help Australians immediately access more affordable and timely health care.
President Steve Robson said while he welcomed the review, there was nothing in the report to ensure Australians struggling to see a GP or facing long operation waitlists were seen any quicker or more affordably.
Opposition health spokeswoman Anne Ruston said while the report pointed out the flaws with the system, it failed to provide specific actions or timelines for improvement.
“The government needs to stop talking about the challenges facing Australians and start doing something about them,” she said.
“Actions speak louder than words and what we have here is just more words and still no actions.”
The Australian Association of Psychologists also called for tangible solutions such as an increase in the Medicare rebate.
Executive director Tegan Carrison said if reforms were to be patient-centred then rebates needed to be higher.
“Cost is currently the biggest barrier to access,” she said.
“We are calling for an immediate increase of the Medicare rebate to $150 per session so that all Australians can afford to see a psychologist.”
Health Minister Mark Butler said he wasn’t ruling anything out when it came to measures to improve affordability, including increasing the rebate.
He said the government would consider the recommendations in the lead-up to the federal budget in May but warned problems could not be solved right away.
“I want to be really frank with Australians and with people working in the health sector: I know this is not a single budget challenge, I know there will be more to do,” he told reporters in Canberra on Friday.
“It’s not going to be quick and it’s not going to be easy … but this report sets a very clear challenge … and this government is up for that challenge.”
The Royal Australian College of GPs cautiously welcomed measures in the report but warned greater reform was needed.
College president Nicole Higgins said general practice was the answer to relieve pressure on the entire healthcare system.
“Medicare is almost 40 years old and we need change,” she said.
“We need GPs working hand in glove with allied health professionals, pharmacists and practice nurses.”