This year’s Federal Budget has a big emphasis on health for older Australians, who are expected to benefit from spending on mental health and boosts to Medicare, as well as increased investment in new medicines for the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS). We look at what these changes mean for your health in 2018 and beyond.

Changes to Medicare
In April, the government scrapped its plan to increase the Medicare Levy from 2 to 2.5 per cent to fund the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS). This news came as a great relief for many older Australians living on limited income.

This budget shows a further commitment to Medicare by revealing a $4.8 billion increase in funding each year for the next four years. The government says Medicare is guaranteed and funding will continue to increase from $24 billion this financial year to $28.8 billion by 2021/22.

Also announced before the budget is an increase of 55c to the Medicare rebate for standard GP visits from July 1 onwards, putting slightly more money into the pockets of battling Australians.

Public hospital funding
The government claims its spending on public hospitals is at a record high and that a new five-year deal with the states and territories — that will deliver more than $130 billion in Commonwealth hospital funding — represents an increase in hospital funding of over $30 billion.

By the terms of the new five-year Heads of Agreement between the Commonwealth and the states and territories on public health funding and reform, the government will provide 45 per cent of the public hospital funding.

However, Labor has expressed scepticism about the deal, saying the existing arrangement already amounts to a $715 million funding cut to public hospitals by 2020, which has put more pressure on an already strained public hospital system.

New clinical services added to the MBS
Users of specialist clinical services are big winners in this budget. In the next five years, an extra $75 million has been allocated to put more clinical services under the umbrella of the Medicare Benefits Scheme (MBS).

That means from July 1, patients will get Medicare rebates for services such as scans to detect prostate cancer, and for procedures to remove urogynaecological mesh in women.

Additionally, from November, women at risk of breast cancer will be able to have subsidised 3D breast scans and there will be better access to dialysis for kidney patients in remote areas.

Better access to medicines
The budget outlines a substantial increase in expenditure in the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) with an extra $2.4 billion for new drugs and drugs that have been amended on the PBS listing.

From July 1, breast cancer patients will have access to the drug Ribociclib (Kisqali) via the PBS, thanks to the government providing $703.6 million in funding. This should benefit more than 3000 patients battling breast cancer, saving them approximately $71,800 per year — the cost of the drug without the subsidy.

Other new listings on the PBS include a drug to treat the incurable and degenerative disease Spinal Muscular Atrophy and drugs to treat different cancers, including Keytruda (an immunotherapy medication to treat Hodgkin’s lymphoma patients), Opdivo (a drug that treats non-small cell lung cancer), and Yervoy (to treat malignant melanoma).

Funding for mental health
There has been a big cash injection for mental health services for older Australians in this budget. The government will pledge $102.5 million dollars as part of $338.1 million in mental health spending to improve access to psychological health for older Australians.

The government says people over 65 often have under-diagnosed and untreated mental health issues, and that men over the age of 85 have a higher risk of committing suicide than any other age group.

$82.5 million will be spent to fund mental health services for people living in residential aged care, with a big emphasis on reducing loneliness and depression.

A further $20 million will be spent to develop a program to support those isolated and at risk in the community. This program will be developed and implemented by qualified mental health nurses.

Funding for aged care
The government will spend $1.6 billion over four years to provide residential aged care packages to 14,000 Australians so that they can continue to live in their own homes rather than moving into aged care facilities.

However, Labor has criticised this plan as being not enough, pointing to the 100,000 Australians that are currently on the government waiting list for in-home care.

Other funding boosts
The government announced a $1.3 billion plan to grow the field of medical research, including $500 million in funding to advance the field of genetic research to help doctors develop individualised treatments for patients in the future. An extra $248 million has been allocated for research into rare cancers.

There will also be numerous funding boosts to support stronger health services for rural Australians. $200 million extra to a total of $3.9 billion in funding will also be spent to improve the health outcomes of indigenous Australians over the next four years.

If you are experiencing a personal crisis, you can call Lifeline’s 24 hour/7 days a week crisis support and suicide prevention service on 13 11 14.

What do you think of the health measures in this year’s Federal Budget? Leave your comments below and tell us what you think.