Last Tuesday the Australian federal government announced the national budget for 2017/18. On the health-front, it contained new announcements that will affect us all.

The big headline is that projected government revenue is $440.4 billion and projected spending is $464.3 billion. Of this spending, $75.3 billon will be on healthcare, including Medicare, the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) and medical research – which is in line with expectations.

As always, it’s important as ever to understand how the government is spending our tax dollars. CreakyJoints Australia strongly believes that more support is required when it comes to arthritis patient education and research – to empower people living with arthritis and make our lives better.

Digging a little deeper into the numbers, the push for medicine substitution continues, with no relenting in the push for generics and biosimilars.

Practically, generic and biosimilar medicines will now be offered to patients as a default, by their doctors and pharmacists. However, according to Minister for Health Greg Hunt, ‘patients nor doctors will be forced to choose the generic product and the selection of prescribed medicines will always be at the discretion of the individual doctor.’

This change is important to all of us and means that education about our rights to chose medication is more important than ever.

To achieve this change, the government has struck a deal with pharmaceutical companies to support the uptake of lower-cost generic and biosimilar medicines, saving up to $1.8 billion. In return, the government has committed to ‘recycling’ the entire saving into spending on new medications not currently subsidised via the PBS. Pharmacists will also benefit from higher profit margins on the most common generic medications and other support which totals $825 million.

The government has received support for this change from the Australian Medical Association, the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, the Pharmacy Guild, Medicines Australia and the Generic and Biosimilar Medicines Association.

While this support is wide-ranging, the medicines that work best for each of us are unique and just because a generic or biosimilar is cheaper, this isn’t an excuse for putting cost before our health.

CreakyJoints Australia will be working harder than ever on this front, to educate and provide information to our community.

In other news, the government has announced that it will slowly end the freeze on indexation of GP bills, specialist procedures and allied health professional bills, to support bulk billing which is so important to all Australians.

This means that the the Medicare rebate for a standard 20-minute GP consultation, which has remained at $37.05 since 2013, will gradually rise in line with the cost of living, encouraging GPs (and eventually specialists and allied health) to bulk bill their patients – making their services more accessible, particularly for patients with chronic illnesses. This change will roll out between July 2017 and July 2019.

It’s also worth noting that the Medicare levy is set to be increased by 0.5% in two years time (in 2019), up to 2.5%, on all Australians who pay this as a part of their annual tax bill. This money would be used to substantively fund the National Disability Insurance Scheme. This tax increase is unlikely to be support by the Australian Labor Party, which has signalled that it would prefer to maintain the existing 2.0% “deficit levy” on wealthy people (who earn more than $180,000 each year), which the Liberal Party is scrapping.

Finally, the Medical Research Fund will begin investing in projects, with $65.9 million in first disbursements announced in this Budget. Importantly, no investment is focused on arthritis management or research – despite the fact that 1 in 5 Australians live with this illness. We think the lack of attention on arthritis and similar chronic illnesses should be turned around. It’s something which we will be pushing strongly for in future Medical Research Fund funding rounds.

Watch this space!

To get involved, please drop us an email or pick up the phone. Nothing is more powerful than the voice, opinions and insights of real people living with arthritis.

CreakyJoints Australia representative Michael Zelas with Health Minister, Greg Hunt.

Parliament House, Canberra.

Greg Hunt delivering budget.