Thursday, May 07, 2015

2016 Budget Watch. Parliament Closed Until Budget Day. It’s Coming Very, Very Soon!

Last Budget Night was on Tuesday 13th May, 2014 and it is still not finalised -apparently $27Billion still unresolved! I think we should forget about all that and now look forward. Will be interesting to see what the Budget Papers say about all the failed ideas etc.
We now look forward to see what we might see next time - less than a week. I am sure this will be fun.
It’s now getting down to the wire. Good to see Mr Hockey has called to bottom of the iron ore slump by planning on the price going to $35. Since his call it seems to be going up again!
Apparently the Budget is now in such good shape millions of dollars can be thrown at the PCEHR!
Budget Night is May 12, 2015.
Articles looking forward and back this week include.

General Budget Issues.

Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey look to use the budget to hold onto their jobs

Date April 25, 2015 - 9:30PM

Paul Malone

Junior iron ore miners are on a roll.
It was September 2011 and The Australian's front-page headline left no doubt about where we stood: "Decades of wealth from boom – report forecasts 750,000 new jobs as commodities exports hit $480BN."
Inside the paper financial "experts" voiced their joy at the expected transformation revealed in a "landmark" report released exclusively to The Australian and prepared by the ANZ Bank and economic consultants Port Jackson Partners.
We were told that a new economy, based primarily on mining, would be formed and that the number of workers employed in the sector would rise rapidly over the next two decades.

Govt to inject 'integrity' into budget

A new package of tax and welfare integrity measures will be put at the heart of the federal budget next month as cabinet ministers prepare to sign off on a new strategy to counter the damaging campaign against “unfair” savings.
Welfare cheats will be targeted in a new program to cut the nation­’s social security bill while global companies will face tighter laws on shifting profits to foreign tax havens, adding billions of dollars to the budget bottom line.
Fighting back at attacks on last year’s unpopular spending cuts, the federal government will use the integrity measures to assure voters that its second budget not only passes the “fairness” test but also prevents some taxpayers from shirking their obligations.

Seniors group hits out on bank levy

Seniors have a blunt message for the federal government: leave savers alone.
Over-50s lobby group National Seniors Australia has joined the opposition to a bank deposits tax, saying people who save are an easy target for governments.
"They're low hanging fruit for governments who are keen to grab money," chief executive Michael O'Neill told AAP.
The tax - a 0.05 per cent levy on deposits up to $250,000 first proposed by Labor - is expected to be unveiled in the May 12 budget in a move that would raise about $500 million a year.

Hockey might need to flip his budget thinking

April 27, 2015
A fortnight out from the federal budget - and with last year's effort still in tatters - the storm clouds are looming and a choice needs to be made about how to cope, writes Ian Verrender.
The insurgency has been halted, the counter-revolutionaries are gaining ground and both Joe Hockey and Chris Bowen have been caught somewhere in between.
A fortnight out from the federal budget - and with last year's effort still in tatters - Australia increasingly is attracting global attention in a decades old battle over the most effective way to drive an economy.
Australia is a member of a relatively exclusive club; a developed nation with minimal debt where interest rates - while at a record low - are still well above zero.
And here's where it gets interesting. While we have an enviable record of almost a quarter of a century of unbroken growth, storm clouds are looming. And a choice now needs to be made about how to cope.

Why the government is in big trouble

  • April 27, 2015 11:54AM
  • Malcolm Farr
  • News Corp - National Political Editor

Budget 2015: What we know so far

PRIME Minister Tony Abbott and Treasurer Joe Hockey are dealing with old issues and new problems as they put together their second Budget in an atmosphere greatly different to their first last May.
They will again have to manage the bills coming in from a big-spending government. But this time it’s not Labor’s, it’s their own.
When spending is expressed as a proportion of GDP — economic output — the Abbott Government is the most profligate for two decades. All this at a time when the tax revenue stream is becoming shallower.
Here are six problems the Prime Minister and the Treasurer will have to manage, and which were not a bother last May.

Few surprises expected in budget as Coalition avoids fights

Judith Sloan

Tony Abbott and his lieutenants are absolutely determined to avoid the mistakes of last year’s budget. The key guiding principle will be to avoid picking any fights — especially with groups that count politically.
Fearful that the government’s fiscal credibility may be on the line, however, there will be plenty of references to establishing a “credible trajectory” to surplus, which will occur (if it ever does) well ­beyond the period of the forward estimates.
The Treasury convention of bunging in trend figures for economic growth and other key parameters in years three and four of the forward estimates will make the out-years look better, even if it is the assumption driving this outcome rather than the likely reality.
Expect the Treasurer to highlight repeatedly the fiscal impact of the low iron ore price, even if the impact is being exaggerated. Just think about it: lower mining company tax revenue and lower PAYE tax receipts from what is a relatively small number of workers may add up to hill of beans, just not a very high one.

Tony Abbott says his second budget will be 'measured, responsible and fair'

Date May 2, 2015 - 4:50PM

Adam Gartrell

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has declared his second budget will be "measured, responsible and fair" but he won't publicly confirm a backflip on pension indexation.
Reports say the government has decided to dump its deeply unpopular plan to reduce the rate of indexation for the age pension and will make up the lost revenue by changing eligibility criteria for the part-pension.
But Mr Abbott was tight-lipped when asked about the reports on Saturday.
"I want to assure people this is a budget that will be measured, responsible and fair," he told reporters in Sydney.

Apparent Budget Leaks.

Millions in savings as over-the-counter drugs now off script pad

Sid Maher

Labor looks set to back a government move to strike from the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme medicines that are available over the counter, a development that should produce significant savings for the federal budget.
Common over-the-counter pain­killers such as paracetamol, antacids and aspirin will be removed from the PBS, meaning doctors will no longer write prescriptions for the medicines and they will no longer be counted towards the PBS safety net.
The safety net kicks in after 60 scripts: after that time, patients receive free medicine.
While the move is aimed at saving the budget money, it is also part of negotiations for a new pharmacy agreement aimed at increasing efficiency in the system.

Budget 2015: rewards for seniors to stay at work

David Crowe

Older Australians will get new ­rewards for finding work and strong incentives to put off their retirement as the federal government recasts its controversial pension savings in a wider budget reform aimed at boosting the workforce at the same time it helps to cut the deficit.
Federal cabinet has agreed to make faster payments of up to $10,000 to employers who hire older Australians as part of an overhaul of job programs to help tens of thousands of people back into the workforce.
A separate budget measure will give people approaching ­retirement a new incentive to stay at work for a few more years in the knowledge they could collect a bonus when they choose to claim the Age Pension.

Tougher eligibility rules for childcare rebate set to hit stay-at-home mums

Date May 1, 2015 - 4:23PM

Matthew Knott

Communications and education correspondent

Social Services Minister Scott Morrison has confirmed the Abbott government will introduce tougher rules on the number of hours a parent needs to work each week to receive subsidised childcare, a move expected to hit stay-at-home mothers.
Parents can currently access the childcare rebate - which covers 50 per cent of out-of-pocket expenses up to $7500 a year - if they work, volunteer or study, but there are no minimum hours required. This has led to to concerns that some stay-at-home parents are taking on very small jobs to qualify for childcare benefits.
Mr Morrison flagged on Friday that a new form of activity testing will be introduced to ensure the highest subsidies go to parents who contribute the most to the workforce.

Ley to announce multimillion-dollar 'rescue package' for Labor health scheme

Date May 2, 2015 - 11:42PM

Adam Gartrell

The costly electronic health scheme is a white elephant and should be scrapped, expert says.
The Abbott government will spend hundreds of millions of dollars trying to salvage a Labor's electronic health scheme that has been branded an irredeemable failure.
Five hundred days after receiving a review into the e-health system – a scheme that has already cost taxpayers $1 billion over the last five years – the coalition still has not publicly announced whether it intends to save it or axe it.
But Fairfax Media has learnt the government has decided to try to save the system and will make the announcement in the May 12 budget. The rescue package is set to cost hundreds of millions of dollars over the next four years.

Health Budget Issues.

Health savings should go back into the system, says Labor

Date April 26, 2015 - 4:52PM

James Massola

Political correspondent

Labor health spokeswoman Catherine King says any savings found in a review of the Medicare system should be re-invested in health care, not used to repair the budget bottom line.
Ms King has also welcomed a review of the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme – which could see access to some common pain killers curtailed while also seeing some common painkillers such as Paracetamol that are currently subsidised struck off the register to save money – as a sensible measure.
Health Minister Sussan Ley said on Sunday there was a strong argument for over-the counter-drugs such as Paracetamol, which costs taxpayers $73 million a year when accessed under the PBS, to be taken off the scheme.
  • Apr 26 2015 at 10:00 PM
  • Updated Apr 27 2015 at 5:40 AM

Government targets subsidies medicine as part of $7b budget savings

A radical overhaul of the Pharmaceutical Benefit Scheme appears set to contribute about $3 billion of savings to a total health-cut target of $7 billion in next month's federal budget, in changes that would also see a long-awaited overhaul of competition among pharmacies.
Health Minister Sussan Ley confirmed on Sunday that the federal government was looking at removing subsidies from several over-the-counter medicines and allowing pharmacies to discount the co-payment patients pay on pharmaceuticals, a measure that is argued will boost competition among retail chemists.
Both measures are being examined as a way of dramatically reducing the burgeoning cost of the pharmaceutical safety net – under which patients get free medication when they have spent more than $1453.90 for general patients, and $366 for concession card holders.

Medicare review set up by Health Minister Sussan Ley shows costs can be cut

Date April 26, 2015 - 10:10PM

Jeffrey Braithwaite

There is a huge opportunity to do more in the health system, and do it better, without spending more.
The decision of Health Minister Sussan Ley to set up a three-part review of Medicare does two important things. First, it gets her and the government out of the jam that the GP co-payment plan, introduced in last year's budget, got them into. And second, and more important, it gives the government, the medical profession and health management at all levels a chance to look at the places within the health system where real savings can be made.
Everyone knows the costs of healthcare are rising quickly while government revenues are constrained, exacerbated by the end of the mining boom. Everyone acknowledges, too, that health spending must be efficient as the demand for services rises with an ageing population. The co-payment was such a bad decision because, simply put, we do not need to impose additional costs on the public to meet our future healthcare challenges. It would have inflicted a lot of pain without gaining much.

The 25 medical tests and medicines doctors say you don’t need

  • April 29, 2015 6:00AM
  • Sue Dunlevy
  • National Health Reporter
DOCTORS have identified 25 wasteful tests and treatments they say shouldn’t be given because they are costing Medicare billions of dollars each year — without improving patient outcomes.
Five specialty groups will on Wednesday unveil the “Choosing Wisely” list which tells doctors not to prescribe long term medicines like esomeprazole and omeprazole to beat heartburn and gastric reflux.
These medicines cost taxpayers $450 million last financial year with more than 6.9 million scripts written for esomeprazole.

Climate change will significantly affect Australians’ health, report finds

Report by the Australian Academy of Science warns extreme weather events will contribute to the spread of disease and disrupt food and water supplies
Climate change will have significant repercussions for Australians’ health as warming temperatures fuel extreme weather events, help spread disease and disrupt food and water supplies, according to a report backed by the country’s peak scientific and medical bodies.
The Climate change challenges to health report, released by the Australian Academy of Science, warns that vulnerable people, particularly the sick, elderly and poor, will “suffer disproportionately from the worst impacts of climate change.”

No explanation for huge disparity in hospital costs

Sean Parnell

Medical treatment in some public hospitals has cost on average almost twice as much as in others, with no explanation for the difference, according to a landmark report from the National Health Performance Authority.
For the first time, the federal agency has charted the significant disparity in the cost of delivering hospital services in Australia, taking into account whether the facilities do more complicated work or treat sicker patients.
In examining more than 60 per cent of costs in acute admissions and emergency department in 2011-2012, amounting to expenditure of more than $16 billion, the authority found the notional average cost of a service ranged from $3100 to $5800.

Medical Future Fund.

Ley revives Medical Research Future Fund

28th Apr 2015
HEALTH Minister Sussan Ley has vowed to pour savings from a comprehensive review of the MBS into the $20 billion Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF).
The announcement on Tuesday marks the revival of the fund policy. Its future was in doubt after the co-payment package that was to pay for it was scrapped.
That co-payment link saw the fund dogged by claims it was a “budget sweetener”, but Research Australia head Elizabeth Foley told Medical Observer that while “in a few people’s minds it was tainted”, the new announcement meant it was “a very genuine offer in the first place”.
Speaking on Sky News, Ms Ley declined to say how much the MBS review expected to save.

Medical Research Future Fund: Cure for cancer delayed

  • April 30, 2015 9:37PM
  • Sue Dunlevy
TREASURER Joe Hockey said it was going to find a cure for cancer but nearly 12 months after it was announced the government’s $20 billion Medical Research Future Fund has not been set up.
And now doctors are at war with Health Minister Sussan Ley over whether new savings in health to be announced in next month’s budget should go into the fund.
Ms Ley told Sky News earlier this week any savings from her recently announced review of Medicare rebates would go into the fund.
“If there are savings it will go into the Medical Research Future Fund, as we promised in the last budget,” Ms Ley told Sky News.

Medicare Co-payment.

  • Apr 29 2015 at 3:02 PM

Peter Gregg, new Primary Health Care CEO, says GP co-payment inevitable

New Primary Health Care chief executive Peter Gregg says if the government does not remove its freeze on rebates paid to doctors, bulk billing GPs will be forced to charge a co-payment to cover their costs.
However in a change of approach for the healthcare company, Mr Gregg has said that Primary will be more collaborative and work with governments to ensure they are getting the most bang for their healthcare buck.
Mr Gregg started at the $2.6 billion medical centre, pathology and imaging provider in March, after founding managing director Edmund Bateman stepped down in January due to illness. Dr Bateman, who established Primary in the 80s with a medical centre on Sydney's northern beaches, has been a strident critic of government health policies.

Pharmacy Issues.

Painkillers and antacids may be removed from subsidised medicines list

Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme review told stripping out paracetamol, aspirin and antacids would save budget millions
Paracetamol and aspirin could be taken off Australia’s Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) in a proposed budget measure designed to save millions of dollars.
The pharmaceutical benefits advisory committee is reviewing the PBS and the proposal to remove medications such as paracetamol and antacids has the cautious support of the opposition. Labor’s health spokeswoman, Catherine King, has called it “sensible”.
Moving paracetamol off the PBS would stop pensioners using such prescriptions to get the 60 scripts a year required for all subsequent scripts to be free, the Sunday Telegraph reports.

Aspirin, Panadol to get cut from PBS

  • April 26, 2015 4:56PM
  • By Rashida Yosufzai
  •  AAP
PARACETAMOL, antacids, aspirin and other basic medicines could soon be removed from the list of subsidised medicines.
BUT the budget measure to strip some over-the-counter drugs from the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme will mean a better deal for consumers, the federal government says.
Health Minister Sussan Ley said the government was paying too much for people to access basic drugs on script at their chemist.
The government wanted to make way for expensive, new-generation cancer and other life-saving drugs on the scheme.

Sussan Ley confirms Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme crackdown in May budget

Date April 27, 2015 - 8:59AM

Matthew Knott

Communications and education correspondent

Health Minister Sussan Ley has confirmed the government will tackle "perverse incentives" in the health system by removing over-the-counter medications - such as Panadol, aspirin and antacids - from the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme in the May budget.
A responsible fiscal approach across the health portfolio demands that we do this 
The change will mean that pensioners and other concession card holders can not receive pain killers and other products, such as anti-dandruff shampoo and laxatives, for free with a doctor's script once they reach the annual PBS safety net.
After receiving around 60 scripts a year, concession card holders can currently access over-the-counter medications for free even though they are available cheaply and without a prescription at supermarkets. 

Subsidy cuts will hurt pharmacists and change prescribing habits

27 April, 2015 Meg Pigram
The federal government plan to remove paracetamol, aspirin, antacids and other over-the-counter medicines from the PBS will devalue pharmacist advice, says consultant clinical pharmacist Debbie Rigby (pictured).
A consulting pharmacist says the health minister’s plan has been tried before and did not work
The federal government plan to remove paracetamol, aspirin, antacids and other over-the-counter medicines from the PBS will devalue pharmacist advice, says consultant clinical pharmacist Debbie Rigby.
“I am surprised this is happening, because it has already happened before and it didn’t work,” Ms Rigby says.

Bitter pill to swallow as budget surgery continues

9:11pm, Apr 27, 2015
The Health Minister has common medicines and chemists in her sights. While the Opposition appears to be open-minded about it, the real opponents are ready for a fight.
Fresh from healing the deep wounds left after last year’s budget battle with the nation’s doctors, Health Minister Sussan Ley is scrubbing down for some radical surgery on the country’s chemists.
The stakes are high.
The referring doctor is Treasurer Joe Hockey, who is looking for savings of $3 billion in the new pharmacy agreement over four years and a huge $7 billion across the whole health sector.
The patient is already being prepped. Ms Ley’s campaign began on the weekend when she confirmed she’s looking at savings in the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. That’s the one that heavily subsidises expensive but lifesaving medicines. The trouble is, readily available over-the-counter drugs like paracetamol are also included.
So a 100-pack of Panamax Paracetamol costs $1.89 off the shelf, but when it’s prescribed by a doctor for an eligible pensioner the price shoots up to $8.66. Included is a chemist’s dispensing fee of $6.76. The cost to taxpayers is $73 million a year. This would more than cover the cost for the anti-melanoma drug Ipilimumab at $65 million.

Plan for OTC drugs to be taken off PBS

28 April, 2015 Michael Woodhead
GPs will no longer be able to prescribe over-the-counter medications such as paracetamol and antacids on the PBS as part of plans being considered for May's budget.
Citing "perverse incentives" and a need to make the PBS more sustainable, Federal Health Minister Sussan Ley said there were potential savings of hundreds of millions of dollars a year to be made from removing products such as paracetamol from the PBS.
The plan will also cover products such as loperamide, laxatives and anti-dandruff shampoos, which are currently available on the PBS.

These cuts will hurt

1 May, 2015 Meg Pigram
Three national health groups have joined forces with the PSA to urge the Federal Health Minister to assess the health and economic impacts of changes to pharmaceutical subsidies before implementing new measures.
The Consumers Health Forum, Arthritis Australia, Painaustralia and the PSA say changes, as currently proposed, would significantly disadvantage more than one million Australians living with arthritis and other chronic conditions requiring frequent medication.
Health Minister, Sussan Ley, has foreshadowed significant changes to the PBS including the introduction of a discount of up to $1 on the co-payment for prescription medicines and the removal from the PBS of a range of OTC including analgesics.
This comes when there is a separate move to introduce doctors’ prescriptions for some pain killers currently available over the counter at pharmacies. There is also continuing speculation about a possible increased co-payment for prescribed medicines.
I also have to say reading all the articles I still have no idea what is actually going to happen with the 2016 Budget but there has been a good deal ruled out (Super changes, dividend imputation changes and a new Medicare Co-payment).
It does seem the Pharmacy Guild are taking a little water however and might be in for a fright. The rumours of major change are pretty strong!
Nonetheless I am sure there will be lots of fun to observe over the next week.

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