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The Top 5 – Budget Highlights for Health

1. National Mental Health Reform Package

Addressing mental health is this Budget’s number-one health priority. With $2.2 billion ($1.5 in new funding) dedicated to it over the next five years, this will be an exciting space in which to do business. While not addressing medicines specifically, money is also allocated to prevention and intervention services. With Cabinet deciding which medicines will be PBS-listed and which will be deferred, medicines that support the Government’s mental health agenda could take listing priority.

2. Cabinet Deferrals of PBS listings

Depending on your point of view this may not be a highlight, but Cabinet will continue to make decisions regarding PBS listings. As cited in the Department of Health and Ageing’s Portfolio Budget Statement: “Given the need for fiscal discipline to achieve the Government’s intention to return the Budget to surplus in 2012-13, all changes to the PBS with financial implications will be considered by the Cabinet.” During her Post Budget Address, Minister Roxon reiterated the statement that Cabinet always has the right to make decisions and advised the medicines industry to “settle down a little bit.”

3. Investments in Diagnostic Imaging

The diagnostic imaging sector has been lobbying for years to index rebates in line with inflation. While this goal has yet to be realised, the sector received a boost in the form of $104 million-worth of funding to expand its services. This will improve access for patients seeking MRI, improve diagnostic and treatment efficiency, and potentially reduce health costs in other areas.

4. Medical Research to Continue

The NHMRC has avoided cuts, despite widespread media speculation to the contrary in the weeks leading up to the Budget’s announcement. The organisation will receive $849 million in 2011-12, rising to $894 million in 2014-15, thanks largely to the lobbying efforts of those involved in medical research, and the population’s expressed desire to support medical advances.

5. No Surprises

Despite those who expected more pain – and those who had a sense of impending doom – this Budget delivered few surprises and will enable the Health sector to get on with business as usual. There were no radical cuts to funding, no increase in patient co-payment, and no new initiatives in private health insurance. In fact, there was an overall increase in health expenditure in this year’s budget.

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