Health groups left in dark on Budget cuts

Health groups have been left scrambling after the federal budget revealed plans to cut nearly $2 billion from the health system, but gave little detail about which programs would be cut, reports the Sydney Morning Herald.

Fairfax Media understands many of the groups who had travelled to Canberra for the budget  announcement were furious about the lack of information provided, with those in the official “lock-up” for hours being given a short summary of the changes rather than the official budget papers.

The government has said it will make nearly $1 billion of its savings by “rationalising and streamlining funding across a range of health programmes”, primarily through cuts to the Health Portfolio Flexible Funds.

These funds cover a vast range of programs, targeting everything from stopping the spread of HIV to developing responses to pandemic threats and ensuring effective treatment for chronic disease.

Public Health Association of Australia president Michael Moore said the budget was a “bloodbath”, with up to $500 million taken from the funds but no clear outline of how this would be achieved.

“Among the 16 Flexible Funds apparently to be affected are those supporting the provision of essential services in rural, regional and remote Australia; working to close the gap in health outcomes for Indigenous Australians; managing vital responses to communicable diseases; and delivering substance use treatment services around the country,” he said.

He said the “drastic” cuts “will only lead to worse public health outcomes and increasing expenditure on the acute care sector over time”.

He was also critical of one area where the cuts were clearly outlined, with changes to the way dental health care for children is funded.

“A $125 million saving from child dental services – and this is the budget that’s supposed to be fair,” he said.

“What adds insult to injury is the lack of transparency around these measures.

“Organisations attending this year’s health budget lock-up received only a press release on arrival that made no mention of any cuts to funding.”

Australian Medical Association president Brian Owler said it was “insulting” how little information had been provided.

“It was insulting to have the leaders of Australia’s health organisations locked in a room with no budget detail,” he said.

He was concerned that many harsh measures in last year’s budget, including the freeze to GP payments and cuts to future hospital funding, remained, while the government also appeared to be using a review of Medicare rebates to find further savings.

“The MBS (Medicare Benefits Schedule) exists to provide patient rebates and access to services,” he said.

“This move is against the government’s assurances that the MBS review was not about budget savings.”

from the Sydney Morning Herald.

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