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Health Bulletin (2 April 2019)

The latest insights from our Health Law team.

In this edition:

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AMA Position Statement on Environmental Sustainability in Health Care 2019

Following a 2018 report in The Lancet which estimated that the healthcare system in Australia is responsible for approximately 7% of Australia’s overall carbon emissions, the Australian Medical Association (AMA) has released a position statement on Environmental Sustainability in Health Care 2019.

The AMA believes that reducing carbon emissions, curtailing waste and managing resources efficiently will deliver better outcomes for patients, as well as broader social and economic benefits.  The position statement calls for the establishment of an Australian Sustainable Development Unit (SDU), which would be based on the model used by the National Health Service (NHS) in England. 

The NHS experience of implementing a Sustainable Development Unit in the UK has reduced healthcare emissions by 18.5% and water use by 21% in 10 years. 

If introduced in Australia, the SDU would be responsible for coordinating the efforts of health services and hospitals to become more environmentally sustainable.  The SDU would also track progress against sustainability targets and provide associated advice to health facilities.

Read the AMA’s position statement here.


AMA welcomes lifting of freeze on diagnostic imaging Medicare rebates

The Australian Medical Association (AMA) has welcomed the Government’s announcement to end the freeze on Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) rebates for diagnostic imaging.

According to AMA President, Dr Bartone, MBS rebates for ultrasounds and x-rays, CT scans, fluoroscopy, mammography, and interventional radiology scans will be indexed from July 2020, signaling “an important first step in addressing rising out-of-pocket costs for patients.”

Click here to read the AMA’s media response or herehe AMA’s Position Statement on Diagnostic Imaging.


Proposed New Residential Care Funding Model

The University of Wollongong released a study on 15 March 2019 which proposed a new and improved residential aged care funding model, as commissioned by the Department of Health.  The study identifies and measures the drivers of resource utilisation in residential aged care, for the purpose of developing a new funding model to be considered by the Government.  Ultimately, the goal is to provide greater financial stability within the residential aged care sector.

The proposed funding model is similar to the activity based funding system which is already in place nationally.  However, the proposal includes an additional two main components.  The first is a ‘fixed care’ payment, which would cover the costs of care which all residents receive equally.  The second is a variable payment, intended to cover the costs of individualised care for residents.

There is a call for submissions which seeks feedback from the residential aged care sector and broader community on the proposed funding model, which closes 31 May 2019.  Submissions on the new proposal for funding can be made here.

To read more, click here. Access the reports from the study here


New report calling for universal dental care scheme in Australia

Stephen Duckett, the author of a new report from the Grattan Institute “Filling the gap: A universal dental care scheme for Australia” (Report) is calling for universal dental coverage in Australia.

The Report discusses that in Australia, most dental care is provided by the private sector and funded out of patients' own pockets.Of all spending on dental care in 2016-17, individual Australians forked out 58 per cent in out-of-pocket costs.

About a third of the Australian population is eligible for public dental services, but it is estimated there is only capacity to provide oral healthcare for about 20 per cent of those who are eligible.As a result, more than two million Australians delay or avoid going to the dentist each year because of the cost, and hundreds of thousands of Australians remain on public waiting lists for well over a year.

The Report concludes that the “existing public dental schemes are inadequate, uncoordinated, and inequitable across states”, and it proposes that the Federal Government should take responsibility for funding primary dental care in the same way in which it funds primary medical care.

The Victorian Oral Health has stated in its media release (Media Release) that an alliance of dental health professionals, providers and consumers has welcomed the Report as a significant contribution to addressing one of the most in equitable and under-funded areas of healthcare in the country.

Read the report here, and read the Media Release here.


New Requirements for Overseas Trained Doctors to Work in Australia

The Australian Government has introduced a new visa requirement for overseas trained doctors, requiring them to work in regional, rural and remote areas.  

Some doctors requiring a visa to work in Australia must ensure that their employer-sponsor has included a Health Workforce Certificate issued by a Rural Workforce Agency in the sponsorship application.A Health Workforce Certificate will be provided where an advertised position responds to genuine workforce need. A visa will not be granted by the Department of Home Affairs without this certificate.  The onus is put on employer sponsors to obtain the relevant documents.

This new measure is intended to manage the growth in Australian medical workforce.There has been an increase in the number of locally trained medical graduates and a high steady rate of overseas trained doctors.It is intended that this new visa application process will direct more doctors into areas that have lower access to primary healthcare services.The initiative will reduce the number of overseas trained doctors in capital cities by approximately 200 per year, over four years.

The Chief Executive Officer of Rural Health West, Tim Shackleton, said the new requirements would ensure better distribution of doctors across the country. Rural West Health is an agency which may issue a Health Workforce Certificate.

For further information, please read the Department of Health Guidelines on the Visas for GPsinitiative.

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