We explain what’s in the Budget for health

The 2024 Federal Budget is in and the good news for Australians is that overall, healthcare has been given a substantial boost, despite concerns about the capacity of the workforce to support new initiatives.

Expenditure was allocated according to four outcomes linked to healthcare, including aged care and disability services, which have long been recognised as key funding areas to address the aging population and higher than anticipated number of participants drawing on the NDIS. 

While GPs will be actively engaged in supporting these services, the biggest impact on general practice will likely be the government’s $2.8 billion commitment to guaranteeing Medicare with a $1.2 billion package to address pressures facing the health system, earmarked under Outcome 1: Health Policy, Access, and Support. 

This includes: 

  • $882.2 million to support older Australians avoid hospital admission, be discharged from hospital earlier and improve their transition out of hospital to other appropriate care. States and territories will be funded to deliver hospital outreach services in the community, provide virtual care services, upskill our residential aged care workforce, and deliver complex care for older people outside of the hospital. 
  • $227 million to deliver a further 29 Medicare Urgent Care Clinics and boost support for regional and remote clinics. This will increase the total number of clinics across Australia to 87.  
  • $90 million to address health workforce shortages by making it simpler and quicker for international health practitioners to work in Australia. 

Overall, the Medicare Benefits Schedule supported over 454 million health services in 2022–23, with 23.5 million people accessing at least one service, and the Budget noted that since commencing last year, existing UCCs have already provided almost 400,000 bulkbilled visits – even though they have been unable to open to the full scope of hours initially planned. 

Other investments in Medicare include: 

  • $127.8 million in new services on the MBS and changes to existing services.  
  • This includes $49.1 million for longer gynaecology consultations for patients who have complex needs  
  • $56.5 million for eligible midwives to provide longer consultations before and after the birth of a child. 
  • $23.1 million to extend the Continuous Review of the MBS.  
  • $69.8 million to increase the number of Medicare eligible magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machines. This will reduce waiting times and help stop patients from being referred for less appropriate scans.  
  • An additional investment of $92.8 million will increase rebates and reintroduce indexation for nuclear medicine imaging items to ensure these services remain accessible and affordable for patients. 
  • $174.1 million for labour intensive pathology test indexation. 
  • $335.7 million for permanent arrangements for COVID/Respiratory panel tests. 

The second outcome, Individual Health Benefits, targets preventative medicine, recognising the need to tackle emerging health issues in a nation where almost half of the population is already impacted by a chronic health condition. 

The Budget will provide $141.1 million for research and services for people living with chronic conditions, including bowel and skin cancer, diabetes, and dementia, but the biggest impact for many patients will flow from the $3.4 billion for new and amended listings to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (including antivirals), which means eligible patients can save on treatment costs. 

As part of the wider cost-of-living package, co-payments for prescriptions on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme will be frozen at $7.70 for pensioners and concession card holders and $31.60 for the public. 

By expanding the Closing the Gap Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme Copayment Program, eligible First Nations patients will also have free or cheaper access to all PBS medicines. 

In the long-term, the Government has committed an additional $1.4 billion over 13 years from 2024–25 through the Medical Research Future Fund to continue to invest in medical research, for a total commitment through the MRFF of $6.4 billion in research funding. 

The Government will also provide $18.8 million over two years from 2024–25 to continue the development of the National One Stop Shop for Clinical Trials and Human Research (National One Stop Shop) and support current systems. 

Other initiatives include:  

    • $141.1 million to support and expand the National Immunisation Program 
    • $825.7 million to ensure Australians can continue to access testing for and vaccinations against COVID 
    • $132.7 million in sport participation and performance programs. 
    • $41.6 million over two years to continue funding for alcohol and other drug treatment and support services 
    • $71.0 million over four years from 2024–25 to continue support services, programs, and research to improve cancer outcomes for Australians, in line with the Australian Cancer Plan 
    • The Government has also lowered the eligibility for free bowel cancer screening from age 50 to 45, so that Australians between the age of 45 and 49 can request a screening kit.