This year’s budget returns us to the annual May budget cycle with a focus on the long-term, following last year’s short-term, essential, COVID-19 recovery budget, delivered in October 2020.
As expected, the 2021-22 Budget continues to make a major commitment to Australia’s COVID-19 response, including the roll out of COVID-19 vaccines.
MS Australia’s analysis of this year’s Budget is through the lens of the two areas of fundamental need for people living with MS – firstly, better treatments, prevention and ultimately, a cure for the disease and secondly, improved support for management and care, particularly through systemic improvements to the health care, disability care and aged care sectors.
Overall, there are welcome, major commitments to improving many aspects of these sectors, including acceptance by the Federal Government of nearly all of the recommendations of the Aged Care Royal Commission through various funding announcements.
A significant investment in research funding is required to prevent and ultimately defeat MS in Australia.
MS Australia is encouraged by the commitment in the Budget to spend $6.7 billion over 4 years to drive world-leading research, hopefully leading to improvements in health outcomes for Australians, as well as creating jobs and economic growth. The amount of funding provided for research projects through the Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) has grown from $61 million in 2016–17 and is projected to be $650 million in 2022–23 and beyond.
This allocation to the MRFF and also further National Health and Medical Research Council investment, whilst not MS-specific, is nonetheless welcome.
The Budget’s focus on systemic improvements to mental health services and digital health funding announcements, including the previously announced extension to telehealth, will benefit people living with MS, including commitments to ongoing funding for listing medicines on the PBS.
The 2021–22 Budget continues reforms under the Stronger Rural Health Strategy to ensure equity of access for all Australians, with $123 million to strengthen the rural health workforce and improve services in regional Australia. The commitment of $65.8 million to increase bulk billing incentive payments for doctors working in remote areas and rural towns, reducing out-of-pocket cost for patients and improving viability of primary care services in these communities will be of benefit to people living with MS, though access to specialist services in rural and regional areas, not always achievable via telehealth, remains a challenge.
In its pre-budget submission, MS Australia proposed an additional, immediate 50,000 Home Care Packages; the commitment to an additional 80,000 Home Care Packages is very welcome.
Announcements in the Budget that seek to address the findings of the Aged Care Royal Commission, will undoubtedly be of benefit to the MS community, these include:
- $6.5 billion for an additional 80,000 Home Care Packages – 40,000 released in 2021– 22 and 40,000 in 2022–23, which will make a total of over 275,000 packages available to senior Australians by June 2023
- $10.8 million to design and plan a new support in home care program which better meets the needs of senior Australians
- $798.3 million to support the 1.6 million informal carers, including additional respite services for 8,400 senior Australians each year
- $272.5 million for enhanced support and face-to-face services to assist senior Australians accessing and navigating the aged care system.
Other aged care-related announcements regarding improvements to residential aged care staffing, training, nursing care and governance arrangements are also welcome, though whilst border closures remain in place, building a workforce to deliver these improvements, especially the additional Home Care Packages, will remain a challenge.
The Budget commits a further $13.2 billion funding over four years to the NDIS, with the Treasurer stating that “under the Coalition the NDIS will always be fully funded”. The government continues to state the need to make the NDIS “sustainable” so MS Australia will continue to monitor, examine and respond to any measures that will impact on the ability of people with MS to access and successfully participate in the Scheme.
To read MS Australia’s pre-budget submission, please click here.