Health cuts from budget predicted to be worse in rural areas

CUTS to several Medicare programs will hit regional areas the hardest as rural health continues to suffer, despite some positive initiatives in the federal budget.

That was the verdict of Rural Doctor's Association of Australia president, Dr Shelaigh Cronin, after Tuesday's budget.

As part of wide health cuts, the budget included a change to indexation of Medicare Benefits, which would save the government about $664 million over four years.

Dr Cronin said there was no doubt this cut would be worse in rural and remote areas, due to the difficulties often involved in accessing and seeing a GP.

"It will discourage more rural Australians to seek preventative healthcare and health checks, despite the fact this healthcare would save the government significant future expenditure by reducing chronic disease and hospitalisations," she said.

"And we are significantly concerned that the aged, frail, disabled and those with chronic disease will be worst hit by the rebate funding cut, given they regularly need to access healthcare, as well as low-income rural Australians who simply cannot afford additional healthcare costs."

While she welcomed investments in breast cancer screening, cancer research and indigenous health, a major problem with the classification of rural doctors was not addressed.

Dr Cronin said the while Health Minister Tanya Plibersek had a report recommending changes to the system, the government had not acted in the budget.

She said she hoped the report, from an independent review of the system, would prompt action as soon as possible.

Other savings in health included a $1.7 billion saving over four years by cutting the Medical Expenses Tax Offset from July.

The change would affect thousands of Australians who used to tax offset to claim back medical expenses on unsubsidised medicines and other health supplies.

National Rural Health Alliance executive director Gordon Gregory welcomed the major announcements on Disability Care Australia and dental health.

Australian Medical Association president Dr Steve Hambleton said the Medicare cuts would make people pay more every time they saw a doctor.

He said the AMA would closely examine the budget papers before making a complete response.



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