Federal Budget: wins for cancer
The recent Federal Budget contained some ‘wins’ for cancer, with significant funding allocated to a number of cancer types, including breast, prostate, pancreatic, bowel and some rare cancers.
Rare Cancers Australia (RCA) described the budget as having a ‘promising focus on affordability and accessibility’. Chief Executive of RCA, Richard Vines, said that removing the financial toxicity of the cancer care journey is critical to Australians accessing the support and treatment they need, particularly for patients in rural and remote areas. Examples include $66 million over four years to deregulate and expand access to Medicare funded MRI services in regional, rural and remote areas; $32.6 million to introduce a new PET scan for initial staging of patients with rare and uncommon cancers; and ensuring telehealth remains a permanent part of Australia’s health system.
RCA also welcomed the investment of $28.1 million over three years for the establishment of Genomics Australia to drive the integration of genomics-led diagnostics and medicine into health care.
Richard Vines said that while the Budget makes some positive strides forward in the areas of affordability and accessibility for Australians living with cancer, more needs to be done, including in the areas of dedicated cancer navigators, the introduction of an MBS and PBS ‘Cancer Patient Safety Net’ that allows the benefit of both schemes to flow immediately to the patient upon the clear diagnosis of cancer, and improved support for people living with cancer in rural and regional Australia to access investigator-led clinical trials away from home.
Other significant Budget announcements for Australian cancer patients include:
- $329.4 million to include new cancer medications on the PBS to reduce the cost of treatment for patients with triple negative breast cancer, metastatic castration-resistant prostate cancer, acute myeloid leukaemia, mantle cell lymphoma, and colorectal cancer (bowel cancer)
- $375.6 million over four years to contribute to the establishment of a Western Australian Comprehensive Cancer Centre in Perth
- $40.7 million to increase the availability of testing and screening services for a range of cancers to catch up on COVID-19 related delays, and facilitate appropriate referrals, early diagnosis and intervention
- $10.6 million for an amendment to the current MRI of the breast item for patients at high risk of developing breast cancer, raising the age limit from 50 to 60
- $14 million to amend the current MRI of the liver item to include all cancer types that have potentially spread to the liver
- $700,000 for updated Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) Testing and Early Management of Test-Detected Prostate Cancer clinical guidelines
- $20 million to improve outcomes and survival for people with pancreatic cancer
- $5.9 million to support priority populations, in particular, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and culturally and linguistically diverse background (CALD) communities, to catch up on missed health screening opportunities.
At the broader health level, Consumers Health Forum Australia (CHF) described the federal budget as being ‘steady as she goes, not transformational’. The highlights for health consumers include targeted cost of living measures to make medicines more affordable, significant investments in mental health services, and permanency of Medicare subsidised telehealth.
CHF CEO, Leanne Wells said that: “Lowering the PBS Safety Net eligibility threshold for both concessional and non-concessional patients is a long-standing initiative advocated by CHF and will improve outcomes for people who have chronic conditions or multiple prescription needs.”
Leanne Wells also said that “Australians have embraced digital health care, partly because it was a vital necessity during pandemic lockdowns and also because they value its convenience. It is now important to make telehealth a commonplace service in healthcare as 71% of Australians who use telehealth said it was as good or better than face-to-face care.”
Notably for regional Australia, the budget includes $296.5 million in funding towards the 10-Year Stronger Rural Health Strategy with funding towards putting more health professionals into rural and regional areas. This will mean more health care support for the 55 percent of rural health consumers who have indicated that they need more doctors, nurses and health workers in the regions.
“It was pleasing to see the Budget include measures to address the needs of key groups in our community. The women’s health package will see new endometriosis and pelvic pain GP clinics and enhanced breast and cervical cancer screening,” Leanne added.
“We particularly welcome specific health communications campaigns and preventive health initiatives for CALD communities but stress that these must be co-designed with the communities themselves. The pandemic highlighted the crucial need for all Australians to receive healthcare information that’s appropriately targeted.”
Information in this article courtesy of Rare Cancers Australia and Consumers Health Forum Australia.