Stakeholder groups have responded to the federal government's 2020-21 Budget that is so dominated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Budget includes $25 billion in new measures in response to the health and economic effects of the pandemic.
It includes $750 million to support the continuation of COVID-19 testing, $170.8 million to continue the operation of up to 150 respiratory clinics and $1.1 billion to states and territories through a funding agreement on COVID-19 Response.
There are also measures related to private health insurance with the government to provide $19.5 million over four years for a range of initiatives.
This includes an increase in the maximum age of dependants allowed under policies from 24 years to 31 years and removing the age limit for dependants with a disability.
The government will also fund enhancements to the Medical Costs Finder website to include voluntary fee disclosure for specialists.
Home and community-based care will be more accessible through private cover starting with mental health and general rehabilitation services.
Private Healthcare Australia CEO Dr Rachel David said it has never been more important to maintain the public-private balance in the health system.
“I am pleased that the government has invested in work to look at some of the technical regulatory issues that increase the cost of private health insurance for younger Australians, as younger Australians will be wanting the peace of mind that comes with PHI when the full effects of COVID-19 on the public health systems become apparent,” said Dr David.
Dr David continued, “The government’s commitment to changing regulations around what health funds can pay for outside the hospital is exactly the sort of policy reform Australia’s health sector needs. This was evident during COVID-19.
“Also a much greater investment in consumer information is vital and it is pleasing to see the government’s fee transparency website get a large boost – the more consumers are able to control their own care, the better that care will be. Repeated studies have shown if consumers are fully aware of any out-of-pocket expenses prior to treatment, they are much more satisfied with their experience."
Dr David said "further government intervention will be required" to manage rising costs that are putting upward pressure on private health insurance premiums.
“Affordability is an issue right across the health system, but with estimated wait times in the public system likely to exceed 1.5 years for common elective procedures, the value of private health insurance has never been greater.
"Health funds are committed to looking after their members so if you are under financial stress as a result of COVID-19, contact your health fund to discuss your options,” added Dr David.
The Medical Technology Association of Australia (MTAA) said the Budget was a major win for its sector.
"The MedTech industry already employs 19,000 innovators, experts, researchers, manufacturers, and medical technicians, and the pro-growth policies set out in this year’s Budget will further support the industry’s growth and capabilities in Australia," it said.
"In August, MTAA submitted to the Government 18 policy priorities to supercharge Australia’s COVID-19 recovery. Today we welcome the Government’s adoption of, in full 3 policies and in part, a further 4 policies," added the association, highlighting the $12 million commitment to upgrade the TGA's IT system.
MTAA CEO, Mr Ian Burgess, said, “The TGA IT systems were from 1998, and hampered interactions between the MedTech industry and the TGA. This investment in upgrading the system will ensure the TGA is best able to approve life-changing and lifesaving medical technology innovations.”
Mr Burgess also pointed to the $1.5 billion Modern Manufacturing Strategy. “More than half of Australian medical device companies have grown from local start-ups, so this budget will make an important impact where it is needed most, shoring up Australia’s MedTech innovators now and into the future,” he said.
Mr Burgess also welcomed further support for home and community-based care, additional investment in the National Medical Stockpile and more funding for telehealth services.