National Health Reform Update

01 Jul 2011Health reform update

Many important national health reform initiatives will start operating from today, 1 July.

As the implementation of national health reform moves forward, it’s worth reflecting on what has been delivered in a short space of time.

The recent report on national health reform implementation, released by the Australian Government, demonstrates that the majority of the health reform initiatives are well on track.

Of 56 specific health measures, 15 have been implemented and 26 are on track. Twelve measures have been modified—largely as a result of the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) Heads of Agreement signed on 13 February this year. Three measures have been delayed.

This edition of the National Health Reform Update profiles some of the important new initiatives operational from 1 July.

Feature articles include:



First nineteen Medicare Locals commence

Nineteen communities around Australia will benefit from the first group of Medicare Locals which will commence from 1 July 2011.

A total of 62 Medicare Locals will be established nationally, following a review of catchment areas to ensure local responsiveness. The final boundaries include additional Medicare Locals in New South Wales, Western Australia and Victoria. The boundaries are available on the yourHealth website.

Medicare Locals will:

Invitation to Apply

The Invitation to Apply process for Medicare Locals commencing in 2012 is due to close on 19 July 2011. Guidelines for the establishment and initial operation of Medicare Locals and applicant information can be found on the yourHealth website. A further 43 Medicare Locals will be established in 2012, with around 15 scheduled to begin from 1 January 2012, and the remainder from 1 July next year.


Bringing health care closer to home

People living in remote, regional and outer metropolitan areas will have easier access to specialists’ consultations, through a new $620 million telehealth initiative commencing from 1 July. The initiative will make it easier for people to access specialists without the time and expense of travelling to a major city.

Making it easier for people to access the health services they need is a key component of the Australian Government's national health reform efforts.

The initiative also applies across Australia to all care recipients in an aged care facility and patients of Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services and Aboriginal Medical Services (to which an exemption under section 19(2) of the Health Insurance Act 1973 applies).

New Medicare items will allow a range of existing specialist consultation services to be provided via video conferencing and additional rebates on top of these items recognise the increased complexity of providing a service to a remote patient.

Rebates will also be available for the services provided by the health professional located with the patient including GPs, nurse practitioners, midwives, practice nurses and Aboriginal health workers.

Financial incentives will also be available to medical practitioners to encourage the adoption of telehealth services.

More information on telehealth is available on the yourHealth website and at Medicare Benefits Schedule Online.


Improving primary health care for all Australians – new after hours GP helpline

As part of national health reform, the Australian Government is committed to improving access to after hours care, particularly in those areas where people currently struggle to get the care they need, when they need it.

From 1 July 2011, the Australian Government is introducing a new after hours GP helpline. People who require after hours medical advice, who cannot access their usual GP and are not sure what they should do, can now speak to a GP over the telephone, when necessary.

The helpline will be operated by the National Health Call Centre Network (NHCCN), currently trading as healthdirect Australia. The after hours GP helpline is an add-on to the existing 24 hour nurse triage service operated by healthdirect Australia.

Calls are answered by registered nurses who are trained to provide medical advice over the phone. If the call is answered during the after hours period, the nurse can transfer the call to a GP if necessary. The service is also able to refer people to appropriate after hours health services in their area.

The after hours GP helpline is intended as an additional service to local arrangements that may be in place. If they choose to, patients can access these local after hours arrangements in the same way they do now.


More support for practice nurses

The Australian Government is investing an additional $390.3 million over four years to provide expanded, simplified support for practice nurses through the Practice Nurse Incentive Program (PNIP).

Current funding for practice nurses, which is provided through the Practice Incentives Program (PIP) Practice Nurse Incentive and six Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) practice nurse items, will be redirected to the single funding stream to be administered by Medicare Australia from 1 January 2012.

The new arrangements will support practice nurses to continue to undertake activities such as immunisation, wound care and cervical screening as well as a broad range of activities that include the provision of preventive health programs, care coordination and monitoring of acute and chronic disease.

The latest edition of Medicare Australia’s online magazine, Forum, profiles the PNIP and further information can also be found on the yourHealth website and Medicare Australia website.


Improving consumer protection in the aged care sector

Improvements to the aged care complaints system and increasing the protection of aged care residents’ savings are part of the Australian Government’s national health reform agenda to deliver better health and aged care for all Australians.

Legislative reform of the Aged Care Act 1997 is a key component of the Government’s moves to better consumer protection in the aged care sector.

The Minister for Mental Health and Ageing, the Hon. Mark Butler, introduced the Aged Care Amendment Bill 2011 to Parliament on 27 May 2011, with the amendments successfully passed on 22 June. The changes in relation to complaints system are expected to take effect from 1 September 2011, with the new arrangements for accommodation bonds commencing on 1 October 2011.

In summary, the amendments will:
In addition, the Bill removes the current restrictions placed on the use of the:
These changes will give aged care providers an unrestricted source of income, offsetting the proposed restrictions on the use of accommodation bonds.

The amendments also reform the Aged Care Complaints Scheme by enabling the development of new Complaints Principles. The Scheme provides older Australians, their families and the community with an avenue to raise their concerns about the care they or their loved ones are receiving in Australian Government-subsidised residential and community aged care services.

The new Complaints Principles, expected to come into effect from 1 September 2011, will improve complaints management by providing a focus on resolution, taking into account the care recipient’s and the complainant’s wishes and the capacity of the service provider. The new Scheme will encourage increased engagement and involvement of all parties by utilising conciliation and mediation in the complaints resolution process.

These changes have been the subject of extensive consultation with consumer groups, providers of aged care and the financial service sector.

The Government will continue to work collaboratively with providers and key stakeholders to ensure smooth implementation.


Driving improved safety and quality standards across Australia’s health system

The Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care began operating as an independent statutory agency, under the Commonwealth Authorities and Companies Act, on 1 July 2011.

The Commission is an important part of the Australian Government’s national health reform efforts and will be responsible for developing national clinical safety and quality standards. These national standards will help to ensure consistent, high-quality health care, and provide greater levels of transparency and information about the health system to increase accountability and drive improved outcomes.

The Commission’s work on standards will drive the development of hospital and primary health care service, quality and safety measures in the Performance and Accountability Framework.

These measures will be reported on by the National Health Performance Authority in their Hospital Performance Reports and Healthy Communities Reports. These Reports will aim to provide Australians with information about the performance of their health and hospital services in a way which is both nationally consistent and locally relevant.

Establishing the Commission as a permanent independent body ensures that it has the appropriate governance and financial framework to progress its work program, and provide independent advice on safety and quality matters.

The governance and funding arrangements, whereby the Commonwealth provides 50 per cent of the Commission’s funding, and the states and territories the remaining 50 per cent, reflects the shared policy interest of all jurisdictions.
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