Dental, aged care focus of health budget

Dental, aged care focus of health budget

The federal government has pumped just over $800 million of new money into dental and aged care as the centrepieces of the health budget.

Labor leaked most of its spending initiatives in the weeks before the federal budget, including $49.7 million to expand the national bowel cancer screening program.

It was also reported that Medicare rebates for cosmetic surgery, including so-called "designer vaginas", might be capped - and they have been.

The government will save $96.5 million over four years by capping a range of procedures covered by the extended Medicare safety net, the budget papers released on Tuesday show.

Under the safety net, the commonwealth pays 80 per cent of out-of-pocket costs for procedures once a yearly threshold of just under $1200 is reached.


But Health Minister Tanya Plibersek says some items are being capped "to discourage excessive fees and to prevent people from misusing Medicare to pay for cosmetic surgery".

Items on the hit list include vulvoplasty or labioplasty, minor plastic surgery, varicose vein procedures, reversal of male sterilisation, eye injections, nipple reconstruction and nose work.

It was also announced the private health insurance rebate would no longer be paid for natural therapies, unless the chief medical officer decide they were "clinically effective".

The Consumers Health Forum praised the budget for targeting spending cuts.

"We can't expect wrinkle reduction, eye lifts, nose and ear jobs to be subsidised by taxpayers," forum chief executive Carol Bennett said in a statement.

"We would much prefer the money was directed to ... Australians on public dental waiting lists."

The government announced a $515 million dental care package but in fact only $225 million of that is new funding.

Some $346 million over three years will go towards a blitz on state waiting lists, which Ms Plibersek says will benefit 400,000 people.

There's also $159 million over four years to boost the dental workforce and encourage dentists to relocate to the bush.

The aged care package announced in April is being billed as a $3.7 billion initiative but it only contains $577 million in new funding over five years.

Again, the rest of the money is being "redirected" from existing measures.

Overall, the aged care sector has embraced the reform - with its enhanced user-pays focus - as a positive first step in making the system more sustainable as the population ages.

But nursing home operator Catholic Health Australia bemoaned a lack of action to address the shortage of doctors and nurses revealed in a recent workforce report.

"By 2025 Australia will have 110,000 fewer nurses than needed," CHA chief executive Martin Laverty told AAP in a statement.

The budget also includes, as expected, $49.7 million to expand the national bowel cancer screening program.

Tests are currently provided free to people when they turn 50, 55 and 65 but will now be offered to people turning 60 from 2013 and 70 from 2015 "with biennial screening phased in from 2017/18", Ms Plibersek said.

In a move that will be welcomed by consumers, there's $200 million in new funding for electronic health records over two years including $4.6 million for additional privacy measures

Following on-going concerns that patients' details could be hacked, the Australian information commissioner will be given a "compliance and oversight" role.

The e-health system is scheduled to go live on July 1.

Ms Plibersek on Tuesday was also spruiking the benefits of $475 million for regional infrastructure projects coming out of the existing health and hospitals fund.

She also insisted that restricting the number of duty free cigarettes that can be brought into the country from 250 to just 50 per person from September would help reduce tobacco consumption.

That was a sentiment shared by the Cancer Council's Ian Olver who said in a statement the move "consolidates Australia's standing as a world leader in reducing the harms of smoking".

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