Calls for rural health care equity as Medicare celebrates 40 years

01 February 2024

As Australia marks 40 years of Medicare, the National Rural Health Alliance (the Alliance), in recognising the benefits of Medicare, takes the opportunity to call for improvements in the funding models for primary health to ensure that those who live and work in rural, regional and remote areas benefit from the scheme in the same way as their city counterparts.

When established, Medicare was intended to ensure the public had access to primary health care at little or no cost to keep them healthier and out of the more expensive hospital system.

With the benefit of 40 years of hindsight and now projecting into the future, Medicare needs to build in other measures to ensure geographic equity and meet the health challenges of an aging population living with increased rates of chronic disease.

“The Alliance calls for support to multidisciplinary healthcare teams through Medicare. Funding is needed outside of the fee-for-service model for rural communities, particularly in thin rural and remote markets that increasingly find it difficult to survive under the current MBS funding arrangements. A more innovative model of care is needed for those in rural areas,” said National Rural Health Alliance Chairperson Nicole O’Reilly.

“We know primary health care works. Having access to primary health care at little or no cost to patients keeps them healthier and out of the more expensive hospital system. 

“As technological advances, including the use of artificial intelligence increases, we need to ensure that people living in rural Australia benefit equitably from it. They should be able to access the healthcare they need from their local primary healthcare providers and high-quality acute care when they need it as close to home as possible.

“Medicare relies on having providers available to deliver the services. There is inequity where people in rural and remote Australia do not have access to the same level of Medicare supported health care as their city counterparts due to the tyranny of distance and limited healthcare workforce availability,” concluded Ms O’Reilly.

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