MBS review and spending a focus of Senate Estimates

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Non-government Senators used Estimates to question Department of Health officials over health spending and how savings from the MBS Review are being reinvested in the portfolio.

A Review Taskforce was established to examine all the items listed on the Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) and recommend changes to align services with contemporary, evidence-based medical practice. 

Labor Senator Murry Watt questioned how the government is spending the over $550 million generated so far from the Review. Officials said the review is "not about savings". They said the government has a policy commitment to reinvest all savings generated in the MBS.

Department of Health officials acknowledged the 2018-19 Budget showed a $400 million reduction in growth in spending on the MBS over the forward estimates. They said it reflects changes in visa arrangements meaning 200 fewer overseas trained GPs will be billing Medicare over the forward estimates. One official said Australia currently has the third highest GP-to-population ratio

Officials said spending on the MBS will be 9 percent higher in real terms in 2021-22, or around $4.8 billion, with more services billed to the program. The $400 million reduction is in spending growth over the forward estimates.

"There will be a moderation in growth of Medicare," said one official, adding the government is working to "bend the curve" of spending by eliminating funding for low-value and obsolete services through the ongoing work of the MBS Review Taskforce.

Officials confirmed health minister Greg Hunt is currently considering 11 more recommendations from the Taskforce and that the government has not rejected any of its recommendations - 38 have been accepted in full and two in part. They also confirmed the cost of the Review so far has been $19.9 million.