New e-Health System Fraught With Time Delays

Critics have been skeptical about the health insurance reforms that the Australian Gillard government is trying to make, stating categorically that the objectives have not yet been realised. While the Labour Government has been relatively successful in terms of lobbying for plain tobacco packaging, initiating the National Disability Insurance Scheme and investing in the health of indigenous people, the reorganization appears to have come at the expense of GPs who have largely been excluded from the reforms.

The e-health program has been set a budget of $64.5-million to upgrade 240 general practices, upgrade Aboriginal Medical Services, and primary and community health services. The reorganisation that has taken place to date has seen the implementation of 62 Medicare Locals but critics claim that the model is largely misunderstood by the local public and that all that has been achieved is the disenfranchisement of GPs who have had their decision-making authority removed during the changes.

Medicare Locals have been established to improve the quality of care available to the public, as a federal government initiative, in order to distribute funding and ensure the relevant organization wherever required. One of its objectives is to make medical care more accessible to the Australian public.

While the local community has been vociferous and generally critical about the changes that have taken place so far, the Medicare model is considered by the rest of the world to be one of few successful health insurance campaigns running globally. With an ageing population and increase in chronic health conditions however the public has called for better use of resources and more focus on preventative care and chronic disease management, as well as more sustainable budget commitments as Australians spend more and more on healthcare every year.

In terms of spend it has also been claimed that the 1.5% Medicare levy has misled the public about the total cost of healthcare, painting an unrealistic picture of the expenses, as the levy only covers $9-billion of the total $61-billion cost and 98% of Australian locals are registered to benefit from the service. The changes that came into effect on 01 July 212 have taken the costs into account, in a bid to distribute the growing costs of keeping the national healthy and well, resulting in a levy increase for locals.

As a quick bout of online research indicated, HMC  ( points to reductions, owing to the private health insurance tax rebate. Low-income households may now be able to make up some of the increase through other forms of tax relief. Singles who are bringing home more than $84 000 and families above the $168 000 thresh hold will be charged higher rates for healthcare cover, while individuals earning more income can expect to pay a higher Medicare levy surcharge if they decide not to opt for private health cover.

The introduction of the e-health system has also been met with some harsh criticism, as efforts to streamline and simplify the Medicare system by enabling the public to be more self-sufficient have been fraught with time delays.

Three Hunter locals in Charlestown, Cessnock and Kotara have also announced efforts to modernise their operations by not working with cash from the end of July. A spokesman has confirmed that cash transactions are in decline and only 8% of consultations had been settled in cash over the last year, and only 4% by cheque. Patients who made payment by debit card could expect to be reimbursed via EFT on the following business day. While the news has been well received by younger generations there is some concern about how older Australians will react to the changes, as they may be reluctant to hand their banking details over to a third party.

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