Here is a recap of the 2021-22 Australian Federal budget and the mixed bag of radiology news it brought for radiology services.
Bringing down a federal government budget is difficult at the best of times, so doing this during a global pandemic is particularly challenging.
Spending was high on the agenda to try and guide the Australian economy through the continuing negative economic effects of the pandemic.
This meant that the 2021-22 health component of the budget had some high-spending initiatives for the healthcare sector while containing a mixed bag of radiology news for radiologists and sonographers.
The general health budget
Minister for health, Greg Hunt, was quick to issue a joint media release following the treasurer delivering the budget outlining the Morrison Government’s spending on healthcare.
Touting $121.4 billion in the 2020-21 budget year and $503 billion in the forward estimates, the two critical reforms in the health budget were:
$17.7 billion investment in aged care in response to the Royal Commission on Aged Care Quality and Safety, to deliver greater respect, care and dignity for our older Australians, and
$2.3 billion investment in the National Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Plan – the largest Commonwealth mental health investment in Australia’s history
In addition, Hunt outlined other key measures, including:
$43 billion over four years to make medicines available and affordable through the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS)
$535.9 million for women and girls, including critical investments in line with the National Women’s Health Strategy 2020-30
$781.1 million to prioritise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health and ageing outcomes
$135.4 billion over five years to continue investment in public hospitals
$6.7 billion over four years for life-saving and life-changing research, with $228.1 million in new grants and opening of programs in this Budget
On top of this, the government continued to fund initiatives to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic, including:
$1.2 billion to partner with states and territories to support the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine
$557.1 million to test for COVID-19 transmission, including funding for MBS pathology items
$169.8 million to ensure access to safe services, medicines and up-to-date information on COVID-19
Radiology news and the 2020-21 federal budget
When it comes to radiology more specifically, there was more of a mixed bag of good and bad radiology news in the 2020-21 federal budget.
The radiology news many radiologists would have been cheering on was the unfreezing from 1 July 2022 of Medicare rebates for MRI scans for the first time since 1998, something the ADIA had campaigned long and hard for.
This effectively means that indexation of rebates would begin, allowing patient rebate growth to move in line with inflation, bringing it into line with other radiology services such as x-ray, ultrasound, mammography, fluoroscopy, interventional radiology and CT scans, which had all been indexed from July 2020.
The good news was overshadowed to a degree by the government wanting to achieve “efficiencies” of $107 million over four years, including cutting the bulk-billing incentive to 95%, which will lead to an average cut of $20 per MRI service.
However, on balance, the ADIA was happy that some progress had been made.
For sonographers, there was some good news in the allocation of $37 million to modernise diagnostic imaging, including:
$20.7 million to assist private diagnostic imaging providers to replace older diagnostic imaging equipment in rural and remote areas; and
$7.2 million to fund the development of a streamlined electronic referral solution
There was also a further $13.7 million allocated for preventative health via the rollout of a world-leading program to prevent pre-term birth in Australia.
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