The Australian Government has unveiled a comprehensive $2.4 bn health package to protect all Australians, including vulnerable groups such as the elderly, those with chronic conditions and Indigenous communities, from the coronavirus (COVID-19).
The package provides unprecedented support across primary care, aged care, hospitals, research, and the national medical stockpile.
$100m will be provided to fund a new Medicare service for people in home isolation or quarantine (as a result of coronavirus) to receive health consultations via the phone or video such as FaceTime or Skype.
The telehealth service will help to contain the spread of the virus and will be bulk-billed at no cost to patients. It will be available from Friday 13 March.
$25m will be provided to fund home medicines services which will enable patients to have their PBS prescriptions filled online or remotely, and have the medicines delivered to their home. This service will be available for people in home isolation and vulnerable patient groups. To support GPs and pharmacies, the Government will fast track the rollout of electronic prescribing across Australia with funding of $5 million.
The national triage phone line will be expanded with an additional $50.7m in funding, operating 24/7 to provide advice to patients.
$206.7m will be invested for up to 100 dedicated respiratory clinics. The clinics will be a one-stop-shop for people who are concerned they may have the virus, to be tested and isolated from other patients.
$58.7m will be provided to support people living and working in remote locations, in particular, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. This will include increased capacity to prevent outbreaks, including the tools to proactively screen visitors and fly-in, fly-out workers, additional support to evacuate early cases if required, and mobile respiratory clinics to quickly respond to outbreaks where there is no hospital or available health service.
A dedicated Medicare-funded and bulk billed pathology test for COVID-19 will be established. This is expected to cost $170.2m and patients will also receive both the COVID-19 and flu tests. Funding will also be provided for pathology testing to be conducted in aged care facilities.
Senior Australians will be protected through a major funding boost of $101.2m to educate and train aged care workers in infection control and enable aged care providers to hire extra nurses and aged care workers for both residential and home care.
The Government has already announced $500m in funding for the states and territories for COVID-19. The Commonwealth will pay for half of all additional costs incurred by states and territories in diagnosing and treating patients with COVID-19, or suspected of having the disease, and efforts to minimise the spread of the disease. This will be provided on a 50-50 basis for state health COVID-19 activities both within and outside hospitals.
$30m will be allocated from the Medical Research Future Fund for vaccine, anti-viral and respiratory medicine research.
$30m will be used to deliver a new national communications campaign - across all media – to provide people with practical advice on how they can play their part in containing the virus and staying healthy.
The campaign will keep the health and aged care industry informed, including providing up to date clinical guidance, triaging and caring for patients, development of an app and advice to workers in looking after their own safety. The information will be based on the most up to date medical advice and will be targeted at the entire community as well as high-risk groups and in up to 20 languages.