Federal Budget 2024-2025 – what’s in it for health, aged care, disability providers and life sciences companies?

By Alison Choy Flannigan

There is a lot in this year’s Budget for health, aged care, disability providers and life sciences companies.

Medicare

Previous Budgets rolled out 58 Medicare Urgent Care Clinics. This Budget adds a further 29 Medicare Urgent Care Clinics, investing $227 million so more Australians in more locations can walk in and get the urgent care they need – fully bulk-billed – without waiting hours in busy hospital emergency departments.

The Budget provides for $882.2 million in bulk billing to incentivise medical practitioners to provide older Australians with access to medical support.

Hospitals

The Government will provide more funding to state public hospitals from 2025-2030, increasing the Commonwealth contribution to the cost of care to 45 per cent, from around 40 per cent, over the next 10 years.

Mental health

The Government has committed $361 million over four years to expand the range of free mental health services, so that Australians get the right level of care for their level of need:

  • launching a new national early intervention service to ensure people can access support before their distress escalates to needing higher intensity services such as a mental health treatment plan, acute in-patient service or crisis line.
  • providing free mental health services through a network of 61 walk-in Medicare Mental Health Centres, building on the established Head to Health network. They will have their clinical capability upgraded to ensure every centre has psychiatrists, psychologists and GPs on call.
  • funding Primary Health Networks, in partnership with general practices, to bring on mental health nurses and other allied health supports to provide free care coordination and support to patients with complex needs, in between GP and specialist appointments.

Diagnostic imaging

  • $69.8 million to increase the number of Medicare eligible MRI machines. Every single practice with MRI equipment will be able to provide Medicare funded services, almost tripling the number of fully Medicare eligible MRIs since the Labor Party came to government, from 227 machines to 620 machines.
  • $266.9 million so Medicare rebates rise each year for nuclear medicine imaging and many common medical tests, which means more funding for the tests that matter, to reduce waiting times, catch health problems sooner, and prevent patients from having to settle for less appropriate tests.

Aged care

  • The Government is committed to the new rights-based Aged Care Act. Consultation is continuing on the details of the Act and the Taskforce response. The timing is yet unknown but it is anticipated that the Act will commence in 2025.
  • The Albanese Government is investing $531.4 million to provide an extra 24,100 Home Care Packages in 2024-25. This is well needed.
  • $111 million to enhance the capability of the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission. Workforce issues continue to be one of the top challenges for approved providers.
  • $88.4 million to continue to attract and retain the aged care workforce, including to provide better staffing solutions.
  • $1.4 billion to upgrade the technology systems and digital infrastructure across the sector. This includes funding to sustain current systems and to support the implementation of the new Aged Care Act.
  • States and territories will be funded to upskill the residential aged care workforce, deliver hospital outreach services in the community, provide virtual care services, and deliver complex care for older people outside of the hospital.
  • $190 million will help older Australians recover from a hospital stay with short-term care through the extended Transition Care Programme.
  • $101.4 million investment in services and support for people living with complex care needs, as well as readying the health system for new diagnosis and treatment advances.

Disability

The Budget includes $27.9 billion of savings or revenue measures over four years, the biggest of which is $14.1 billion in reduced growth in national disability insurance scheme spending.

The Government has committed an additional $227.6 million, bringing the total funding to $5.4 billion over the next five years to help more people with disability prepare for and find suitable employment, including through a new specialised disability employment program commencing on 1 July 2025.

This includes investing in a modern digital platform to deliver better supports to providers and participants and undertaking a procurement to ensure there is a strong, viable market with more specialist providers and increased participant choice.

The Government has also committed $23.3 million in funding over four years to establish a Disability Employment Centre of Excellence, which will build the capacity of employment service providers to deliver higher quality, more effective services.

The Albanese Government has committed $45.5 million over four years (and $13.3 million per year ongoing) from 2024-25 to establish an NDIS Evidence Advisory Committee (NDIS EAC), a key recommendation of the Independent NDIS Review. While having an advisory committee is great, there is a notable lag between the Final Report of the Disability Royal Commission and action.

People with disability will benefit from $2.6 million in additional support for the continued delivery of the National Disability Abuse and Neglect Hotline and the Complaints Resolution and Referral Service.

Life sciences

  • The Government has committed up to an additional $3 billion for an Eighth Community Pharmacy Agreement to strengthen community pharmacies and keep medicines cheaper. The Government will deliver a one-year freeze on the maximum co-payment for a PBS prescription for everyone with a Medicare card and up to a five-year freeze for pensioners and other Commonwealth concession cardholders.
  • $18.8 million to make Australia a destination for clinical trials, so Australians get early access to life-changing medicines. A national one-stop-shop for clinical trials will streamline health and medical research, making it easier for patients to participate in clinical trials for emerging treatments.
  • Medical Research Future Fund – $1.4 billion over 13 years in ground-breaking new health and medical research through the Medical Research Future Fund, including an additional $411.6 million for low survival cancers and reducing health inequities.

Commentary

The Medicare Urgent Care Clinics is one of the best initiatives, to take the load off busy emergency departments so that they can focus on treating patients who really need them.

More needs to be done to attract doctors to attend older people at their place of residency.

The increased funding to public hospitals is welcome, as a lot of public hospitals are experiencing financial pressure and this results in longer waiting lists for patients.

Making clinical trials more accessible to patients and sponsors by co-ordinating a one-stop-shop makes sense and has been needed for years, provided that there is a vetting process to ensure that the clinical trials are appropriate and safe.

Additional funding for home care is welcome. More funding is required for residential aged care sector to become sustainable.

See our previous article on the Aged Care Bill, The new Aged Care Bill 2023: understanding its potential impact on governance and boards.

Hospital outreach services in the community for aged care is vitally important to provide appropriate medical care for elderly people in their homes rather than unnecessary transfers to hospitals.

A modern digital platform to deliver better supports to providers and participants is a great idea; however, it is unclear how the proposed disability savings will occur – hopefully not at the expense of care for our disabled.

Contact

Alison Choy Flannigan

Alison Choy Flannigan

Partner & Co-Lead, Health & Community

Alison specialises in advising clients in the health, aged care, disability, life sciences and community sectors. 

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