Budget breakthrough for nurses

Nurse practitioners and midwives recognised in program to boost public health.

Federal Labor’s 2009-2010 Budget announced last month provides a record $64 billion in health and hospital funding.

It sets out to limit Government subsidies for private health insurance paid to higher-income earners.

And in a significant breakthrough for the nursing profession, it gives nurse practitioners and midwives access to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Schedule for the first time.

General Secretary of the NSW Nurses’ Association, Brett Holmes, said the union particularly welcomed the decision to allow rebates for prescriptions, referrals and diagnostic tests ordered by nurse practitioners and midwives.

From November 2010, medicines prescribed by nurse practitioners and eligible midwives will come under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Schedule. Diagnostics tests and referrals ordered

by nurse practitioners and eligible midwives will attract rebates under the Medical Benefits Scheme. And there will be a Government-supported professional indemnity insurance scheme for eligible midwives.

Brett said the Minister for Health, Nicola Roxon, had recognised the need for highly-qualified nurses and midwives to play a greater role in health care.

‘People will now be able to receive care from nurse practitioners and midwives without facing additional expenses not imposed on doctors’ patients.’

The Budget includes $1.5 billion to upgrade 17 hospitals around Australia, including $96 million to redevelop Nepean Hospital in western Sydney.

Cancer treatment gets a $1.3 billion boost, including $560 million to build a network of up to 10 regional cancer facilities.

To help pay for these measures, the Budget places a tiered means test on the 30% private health insurance rebate, in order to save $1.9 billion over the next four years.

From July 1 next year, the 30% rebate will be reduced for singles earning more than $75,000 a year, and families with an income greater than $150,000.

The rebate will be wiped out altogether for singles earning more than $120,000 and families earning more than $240,000.

‘The NSWNA has long argued that spending on the private health insurance rebate has been growing unsustainably,’ Brett said.

‘It has drained resources away from the public health system and unduly benefited people on high incomes.

‘Under the means test, the great bulk of the population will continue to receive 30% off the cost of premiums.’

The Liberal/National Coalition has vowed to vote against the means test in the Senate. The Opposition challenged the Government to replace the means test with a 12.5% increase in tobacco excise, which, it claimed, would deliver an identical saving of $1.9 billion.

Parental leave win for working women

In an historic breakthrough for working women, the Federal Budget gives Australia its first national taxpayer-funded scheme for paid parental leave.

From January 2011, eligible parents will receive taxable payments at the rate of the Federal minimum wage, now $544 a week, for up to 18 weeks after the birth of a child.

The payment will go to families whose primary carer, usually the mother, earned less than $150,000 in the previous year. The other parent’s income will not be taken into account. The payment can be transferred to the father if he is the primary care giver.

The vast number of women should be able to get the payment, including those who have worked only one day a week over a 10-month period 13 months before the birth of a child.

This will include many women in casual and part-time jobs, who have largely been excluded from employer-funded schemes.

NSWNA Assistant General Secretary Judith Kiejda said this significant social reform was made possible by the union movement’s hard lobbying work

‘Among OECD countries, only Australia and the United States still bear the stigma of having no guaranteed paid parental leave. This Budget brings us into line with the rest of the industrialised world,’ she said.

Judith said government paid parental leave (PPL) would be available to nurses on top of any existing employer-provided leave.

‘Employers who provide parental leave through an award or enterprise agreement cannot legally withdraw that entitlement during the life of that award or agreement,’ she said.

‘The union will strongly resist any employer attempt to remove or reduce employer-paid leave during bargaining for a new award or agreement.’

The Federal Department of Families explains that Government PPL can be taken ‘in conjunction with, or in addition to’ employer-provided paid leave such as recreation leave and maternity leave.

The Department says Government PPL must be taken after the birth or adoption of a child and be completed within 12 months of the birth or adoption. It will not be paid for any period after a parent returns to work.

However, a parent who returns to work may be able to transfer any remaining PPL entitlement to another eligible primary carer (usually the father).