Questions over funding of health package

March 30, 2016

Doctors and health groups have cautiously welcomed a chronic disease plan hailed by the federal government as one of the biggest health reforms in decades.

But they want to see more detail and money.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on Thursday unveiled the plan to create tailored care packages for Australians with chronic diseases to keep them healthier, and avoid expensive visits to hospital.

Local GPs can choose to become medical "homes" where patients with chronic diseases like diabetes can enrol and have all their healthcare needs - from psychology to aged care - coordinated by one doctor.

"It is one of the most significant reforms in the history of our healthcare system," Mr Turnbull told reporters in Canberra.

Labor described it as a rushed, botched attempt to distract voters from the government's dispute with states over its radical income tax plan and hospital funding.

A draft document circulated to states and territories shows from 2017/18, $70 million each year will come out of public hospital funding to pay for the package.

Health Minister Sussan Ley denied states would lose funding, insisting the federal government would ask states to "partner with us" when the matter is discussed at the Council of Australian Governments meeting on Friday.

"This stands alone as the Commonwealth investing in primary care and looking after patients better," she said.

A trial of the "Healthier Medicare" package will be rolled out from July 2017, involving about 65,000 patients at 200 medical practices.

Ms Ley said the federal government would pump $22 million into setting it up, while incentive payments already paid to GPs will be diverted to the new package.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said he supported the principle of the package but insists the "devil's always in the detail".

"Mr Turnbull's trying to pretend that he can ask GPs to do more but provide them less support.

"He needs to explain how he will fund these arrangements."

The Consumers Health Forum said it was a promising first step, but needed to be backed up by much more funding.

"A system that ensures realistic levels of coordinated care for the millions of Australians who need it will take significantly more funding than currently foreshadowed," the forum's chief executive Leanne Wells said.

The Public Health Association said the package failed to focus on preventing chronic disease.

Up to one-in-five Australians now live with two or more chronic health conditions.

The package is part of the government's response to recommendations of the Primary Health Care Advisory Group, chaired by former Australian Medical Association president Steve Hambleton.

The report said primary healthcare services for the seven million Australians suffering chronic disease can be fragmented and poorly linked with secondary care services.

Dr Hambleton said changes to the way doctors will be paid will create more incentive to deliver patients better, long-term care.

© AAP 2016


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