Government decisions shaking up healthcare in 2018
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Government decisions shaking up healthcare in 2018

Healthcare has remained firmly in the media spotlight in 2018, with a raft of Government decisions, announcements and leaks already sparking debate and controversy amongst the healthcare community.

1. Leaked COAG papers reveal new hospital funding deal
A leaked draft of a hospital funding proposal from the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) obtained by Fairfax Media, has revealed Turnbull and Hunt’s post-2020, five-year plan to keep a lid on hospital funding, which defies calls from the Australian Medical Association to boost spending.

It was reported the draft document proposes Canberra will continue to pay 45 per cent of the cost of hospital funding, and the growth in spending by the Commonwealth will remain capped at 6.5 per cent per year for the life of the five-year agreement. Final agreement on the deal is anticipated by the end of 2018.

2. Debate heats up around private health rebates
The private health insurance rebate is one of three policy incentives introduced by the Howard government in the late 1990s, but in recent months it has caused significant controversy, with Federal Opposition Leader Bill Shorten recently taking the health insurance industry to task over the $6 billion subsidy that private health insurers receive from the Government. He later announced that he would move to cap health insurance premiums for two years.

Means-testing of health insurance rebates began in 2012, under which individuals and households with higher incomes received a lower subsidy. In 2014 the Government introduced a new formula, under which rebates are partly indexed to the growth in the Consumer Price Index. As a result, rebates as a percentage of premiums have been gradually falling, year on year.

The rebates are meant to work indirectly, by encouraging Australians to buy private cover, and use the private system and avoid the public system when they need hospital services. But the controversy around them is that the opposite of this intended effect could be happening, if private hospitals focus on (cheaper) patients with straightforward medical conditions, and leave the complicated (expensive) cases to the public system.

3. High strength flu vaccine for over 65s sparking rows over immunisation holes
A high-strength flu vaccine for over-65s is likely to be added to the National Immunisation Program next month to prevent a repeat of last year’s ‘horror season’.
The Federal Government says it has deliberately fast-tracked the listing process for submissions to fund the vaccines in the hopes of preventing a repeat of last year’s flu season.

The PBAC already has already completed a significant portion of the cost-benefit assessments for the vaccines. And as part of the Federal Government’s public health strategy, the PBAC is also examining a submission for the trivalent Fluad (Sequiris) for 65s and over.

But the move comes amid a row over alleged holes in the National Immunisation Program, and some states have announced their own programs. Meanwhile public health experts remain concerned that access to vaccines and the protections they offer is becoming dependent on where people live rather than on clinical need.
Submissions to fund Fluzone will go before the PBAC for formal approval in March.
4. Opinion divides over codeine ban

The new codeine laws are now in effect, creating a sharp talking point for both GPs and pharmacists as to their consequences. Already, GPs are being warned against prescribing low-dose codeine medication, with some experts encouraging pharmacies to stop stocking these products altogether.

But some experts supportive of low-dose codeine becoming prescription-only have warned a small proportion of people who regularly use the painkillers could experience withdrawals.

Already, the makers of the makers of Panafen Plus, Panadeine, Panadeine Rapid Soluble and Panadeine Extra have discontinued the medications entirely from the Australian market. Meanwhile in anticipation of the ban, some drug makers have rolled out new pain medications mixing ibuprofen with paracetamol for those seeking a stronger painkiller.