Government announces $2.4 billion COVID-19 health package

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The federal government has unveiled a $2.4 billion package including a range of health-focused measures in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19).

“Australia isn’t immune but with this $2.4 billion boost we’re as well prepared as any country in the world,” said Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

“This package is about preventing and treating coronavirus in the coming weeks.

“Our medical experts have been preparing for an event like this for years and this is the next step up in Australia’s plan.

“Our Government alongside the country’s leading medical experts is working around the clock to ensure we have the right tools, information and resources to keep Australians safe.”

The package comes as confirmed cases in Australia approach 130 with concern focused on the potential for community-based transmission.

The new federal package follows its recently announced $500 million in funding for the states and territories to support their COVID-19 response. The federal government agreed to pay for half of all additional costs incurred by states and territories in diagnosing and treating patients with COVID-19, or suspected of having the disease, and efforts to minimise the spread of the disease.

Health Minister Greg Hunt said the $2.4 billion package was designed to boost the health system's capacity to assess, diagnose and treat people with COVID-19 in a way that minimises spread of the disease in the community.

“We are ensuring people can access essential care in a way that reduces their potential exposure to infection. This includes support for telehealth, primary care and medical supplies,” he said.

Almost half of the $2.4 billion package - $1.1 billion - will go towards ensuring health care staff have face masks, and other protective equipment such as surgical gowns, goggles and hand sanitiser for health professionals, and adding medicines such as antibiotics and antivirals to the National Medical Stockpile.

In primary care, $100 million will go towards a new Medicare service for people in home isolation or quarantine, as a result coronavirus, to receive health consultations via the phone or video such as FaceTime or Skype. 

The telehealth service will be bulk-billed and be available from 13 March. 

The government will provide $25 million to fund home medicines services that will enable patients to have their PBS prescriptions filled online or remotely, and have the medicines delivered to their home.

This service will be available for people in home isolation and for vulnerable patient groups. 

All pharmacies with e-prescribing will be eligible to participate in the home medicines services and patients will continue to retain choice in their preferred community pharmacy.

The rollout of electronic prescribing across Australia will also be fast-tracked with funding of $5 million.

Over $200 million will be invested in 100 dedicated respiratory clinics. The Primary Health Networks will co-ordinate with the AMA, RACGP and states and territories to identify areas of need. 

A Medicare-funded and bulk billed pathology test for COVID-19 will be funded at a cost of $170.2 million.

The package also includes funding for the training of aged care workers in infection control and an allocation from the Medical Research Future Fund for vaccine, anti-viral and respiratory medicine research.

A $30 million communication campaign will be launched to provide practical advice on how people can contribute to containing the virus and staying healthy.