The government announced $448.5 million in the 2019-20 budget to allow chronic-disease patients aged over 70 to voluntarily enrol with their general practice, with GPs to receive funding for in-person and telehealth consultations along with electronic prescriptions and referrals.
The AMA wants the government to increase total spending on GP services from 8 per cent to 10 per cent of total health spending, arguing this can help doctors prevent avoidable hospital admissions – which cost the taxpayer more money.
AMA President Tony Bartone said general practice was “the cornerstone of our health system” but had been “significantly, progressively, and systematically” underfunded.
“Mental health services must be better connected and coordinated, with a heightened role for GPs – and this will require extra and more strategically-targeted funding,” Dr Bartone said.
“The inescapable facts are that Australia’s population is growing, people are living longer, and the incidence of chronic and complex health conditions is expanding significantly. Keeping people healthy and active will require funding – significant new funding.”
It comes after official Health Department data provided to the Senate in response to questions taken on notice showed that while 85 per cent of GP visits were bulk billed, only 65.4 per cent of patients had every GP visit bulk billed in 2018-19. This reflects the trend of chronically ill older Australians making frequent visits to bulk-billing GPs, while younger Australians are not getting the same benefit.
The Public Health Association of Australia will use its pre-budget submission to call for a greater focus on chronic disease, citing Productivity Commission data showing that Australians spend about 13 per cent of their lives in ill health.
The PHAA also calls for the government to invest $9 million in an “AirSmart” public health awareness program in response to hazardous air quality caused by the ongoing bushfires, in a similar approach to the SunSmart skin cancer prevention campaign.
It said an “evidence based and consistent” air quality reporting program was needed to help Australians keep themselves safe, especially those with existing heart or lung conditions, pregnant women and asthmatics.
Experts have warned there is no safe level of PM2.5 air pollution, the fine particles that are in bushfire smoke.
Dana is health and industrial relations reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.