Albanese pledges $2.2 billion for Medicare overhaul

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has promised $2.2 billion to launch the biggest overhaul of Medicare in its 40-year history while pledging to clamp down on ballooning costs in the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

Pharmacists and nurses will play a greater role in the health system, while new funding models will shift away from the traditional fee-for-service scheme that has driven how GPs are paid since the universal healthcare scheme began.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese (centre), Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk and Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews during a national cabinet meeting on Friday.

Dan Peled

There will also be a new, voluntary My Medicare patient enrolment system for Australians so they can register with their local doctor and the government can better understand the conditions that are driving people to emergency departments.

Albanese said state and territory leaders had confirmed health would be their “front and centre” concern for the rest of the year during Friday’s national cabinet meeting in Brisbane – the last before the May 9 federal budget.

Their commitments come as state hospital systems struggle under surging demand, GP bulk-billing rates decline every quarter, and out-of-pocket fees rise, threatening the affordability of Australia’s universal health system.

Albanese said state and federal governments had also agreed to curb spending on the NDIS – now the government’s second-fastest-growing budget pressure – which is projected to cost $97 billion over the medium term.

The scheme, currently growing in cost at between 12 and 14 per cent a year as thousands more people join, will now have an 8 per cent annual growth target by July 2026.

“We know that the trajectory of NDIS expenditure is just not sustainable into the future,” Albanese said.

“We need to have a sustainable growth trajectory for the NDIS in order to support equity and fairness for all Australians who are living with disability, including those not eligible for the NDIS, and ensure that every dollar goes to those who need it most.

“There are obvious issues with the way that the scheme is being administered.”

A further $720 million in the budget will be allocated to the National Disability Insurance Agency, which administers the NDIS, over four years to enable it to boost its capacity and workforce and improve the overall scheme.

A breakdown of the $2.2 billion health budget – which is a combination of old and new money, spread across the four-year forward estimates – will be clearer on May 9.

But it will involve boosted funding, through primary health networks, to enable GPs to open after-hours as well as an investment in digital health.

The most dramatic change, however, involves extending what different parts of the health workforce can do and changing the way GPs are funded.

Albanese said blended funding models – which could see lump sum payments for GPs in addition to fee-for-service payments through Medicare rebates – would be introduced.

That funding will be enabled by a new and voluntary My Medicare enrolment system linking patients to their doctor, which could give a GP practice annual payments or other benefits when patients sign up for continued care.

There will also be flexible funding models that pay multidisciplinary teams of different health professionals.

The new measures are all recommendations of the Strengthening Medicare taskforce report, which was presented to national cabinet at its February meeting.

“We will continue to … progress the recommendations and report back to the national cabinet,” Albanese said.

More to come

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