Medicare Locals move over for Primary Health Networks

THERE are changes ahead for Medicare Locals, says Loddon Mallee Murray Medicare Local chief executive officer Matt Jones.

The Federal Budget is shaking up the health care system with patients set to pay more for prescription medications, with the general patient contribution rising next year by $5, while the contribution by concessional patients will rise by 80 cents.

Patients could also be charged for treatment in public hospital emergency departments as well as facing new fees to visit their GP, get a blood test or an X-ray.

And the 61 Medicare Locals set up by the Gillard government to plan and co-ordinate health services will be replaced by a smaller number of bodies, to be called Primary Health Networks, which will perform a similar function. 

The National Medicare Local Program will be discontinued from July 1, 2015, and replaced with the new structure of organisations.

LMMML chief executive officer Matt Jones said while the Federal Budget announced a number of changes in the health sector, the recognition of the value and benefit of regionalised primary care co-ordination was pleasing. 

“The functions that Medicare Locals provide in facilitating a more effective and efficient primary health care system to enhance local health service access and delivery and access has been recognised and continues under this new direction," he said.

“We don’t yet know the regional boundaries of each Primary Health Network and that will be a development that will unfold in time.

"The Horvath Medicare Local Review generated findings that have informed these budget decisions and we know that it has recommended a reduced number of Primary Health Networks nationally.

"The regional boundary of the Primary Health Network that will service our communities is likely to be significantly larger than the current Loddon Mallee Murray Medicare Local boundary footprint."

Meanwhile, Bendigo Health chief executive John Mulder has raised concerns about the proposed $7 GP co-payment.

"This would likely lead to increased attendances at EDs and the impact on Bendigo Health is unclear at the this stage," he said.

"In the first three months of this year alone we saw 11,664 patients who presented to our emergency department - up from 11,459 presentations a year earlier.

"There is no doubt this will increase dramatically if patients with a pressing health concern, who cannot afford to see their GP, come to us for care."

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