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“The system is in crisis”: A new report has declared the Medicare system is failing Australians

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Australia’s universal healthcare system is failing practitioners and patients alike, according to a new report from public policy think tank the Grattan Institute.

The report comes amid ongoing efforts to address problems within the Medicare system, which include a dedicated taskforce led by Health Minister Mark Butler.

First, what is medicare?

Medicare is Australia’s universal, publicly-funded healthcare system, which has been operating for over 38 years.

It allows Australians to access discounted health services (paid for by taxpayers), including seeing a General Practitioner or a specialist.

The report’s findings

The report found Medicare has failed to ‘keep up’ with changes to the health landscape since it was first introduced in 1984. According to the report, the complexity of general practice work has grown, but little has been done to help doctors meet patients’ changing needs.

GPs have reported feeling “stressed, disrespected [and] disillusioned” while they try to meet “increasingly complex demand in a system that does not support them”.

As a result, the report found “patients suffer the consequences”, with the effects worst for lower income Australians, who are twice as likely to have multiple chronic diseases as wealthy Australians.

Recommendations

The report set out four key ways to “bring Medicare into the 21st century”:

  1. Fund 1,000 new jobs for broader health workers to “share the load” with GPs and make it a “team sport”.
  2. Establish a new funding model designed to support “team care” and allow doctors to spend more time on complex cases.
  3. The Government should set a “clear” strategy for GPs that outlines what good care looks like and how to deliver it.
  4. The Government should commit to rolling out a new funding model.

Government response

The Federal Government has already committed to a three-year, $750 million fund to address these issues.

In July, the ‘Strengthening Medicare Taskforce’ was established to advise on the best way to address these issues. The details of how the $750 million will be spent will be finalised after the Taskforce reports back.

When asked if he supported any of the recommendations made in the Grattan report, Health Minister Mark Butler said the Government was “committed to investing in general practice and strengthening Medicare”.

Opposition response

Shadow Health Minister Anne Ruston said workforce shortages, particularly for GPs, were the “most critical issue” facing the national healthcare system, and accused the Government of delivering “no real outcomes” to solve this.

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