Medicare Taskforce Report falls short

3 February 2023

Exercise & Sports Science Australia (ESSA) has welcomed today’s release of the Strengthening Medicare Taskforce report as a good first step to addressing the dysfunction and fragmentation of the current system in Australia.

While pleasing to see Allied Health professionals recognised in the report, ESSA considers that it falls short in some areas.

Proposed changes will improve outcomes for the most disadvantaged Australians, including First Nations people, culturally and linguistically diverse communities and individuals, those living in rural and remote Australia, people with disability and Australians less connected to the health system.

ESSA CEO Anita Hobson-Powell has been encouraged by the aim to put consumers and communities at the centre of primary care policy design and delivery, including increased flexibility in models of care to deliver on local needs and incentivise innovation to deliver better health outcomes.

“There does however need to be a much stronger emphasis on prevention at the community level, instead of waiting for someone to be diagnosed with a condition before they can receive treatment,” Ms Hobson-Powell said.

“Our professions are well placed to intervene with a range of treatments and advice that can stop a range of chronic conditions from further developing and potentially, causing continued and heavy demand on state based public hospital systems.

“While ESSA supports the vision to allow health practitioners to work to their full scope of practice to provide quality person-centred continuity of care, this report paints a blurred picture, one which illustrates the incorrect view that only GPs deliver primary care."

“There are thousands of Accredited Exercise Physiologists (AEPs) across Australia delivering these services to many Australians through their own businesses and via involvement in workers compensation schemes, DVA, PHI, aged care, NDIS and mental health services, every day.”

ESSA supports the expansion of Work Incentive Programs (WIP) for allied health (including AEPs) to encourage their involvement in providing multi-disciplinary care in rural and remote communities but, Ms Hobson-Powell added, “historically WIP has not supported or encouraged the use of allied health professionals, like AEPs, to be involved, as the current models of care do not make it financially viable”.

“ESSA wholeheartedly supports the report’s views around incentives to increase multi-disciplinary care but believes this should focus on more than allied health (including AEPs) being embedded in GP clinics and, there are many AEPs already working in established multi-disciplinary business who would welcome the opportunity to become part of this new incentive scheme.”

ESSA supports additional commissioning of allied health and nursing services by PHNs to supplement GP teams in under- served and financially disadvantaged communities.

“We recommend the government consider the fees paid to AEPs through this process and further, that it be supported by streamlining referrals between GPs and allied health professionals,” Ms Hobson-Powell said.

In relation to My Health record, ESSA supports its modernisation and believes the government must invest in giving allied health access to MHR and, including strengthening the link between allied health patient software programs and MHR.

It supports the need to improve the supply and distribution of the full workforce involved in the delivery of quality care (GPs, rural generalists, nurses, nurse practitioners and midwives, pharmacists, allied health, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health workers and other primary are professionals) however, ESSA recommends the government support this via changes to models of care, and provide better incentives for allied health professionals to work in rural and remote areas.

“ESSA looks forward to the next phase of work, which will be to action what today is just words”, Ms Hobson-Powell said.

“We will ensure all our accredited professions receive the best possible opportunity to have a seat at the table and participate in strategy development and then, implementation of the recommendations at the community level.

“We applaud the decision to focus on ways of improving the system, but we’re just as interested in the plan to implement the changes.

“As a key member of AHPA, and under its advocacy umbrella, ESSA is committed to working with the government to deliver on the recommendations of the Taskforce and looks forward to reforms that follow a thorough and time sensitive implementation roadmap.”