Budget 2012: e-health gets $233m boost

The government's national e-health program is set to get a $233.7 million dollar boost in this year's Budget ahead of the 1 July launch of the service.
Written by Josh Taylor, Contributor

The government's national e-health program is set to get a $233.7 million dollar boost in this year's Budget ahead of the 1 July launch of the service.

In 2010, $466.7 million of funding was allocated for a period of two years to launch a personally controlled e-health record (PCEHR) system for all Australians.

Funding for the program was scheduled to run out this year; however, the program has been given a $233.7 million boost in the 2012-13 Federal Budget.

According to the government, Australians will be able to register for a record online, by phone or at Medicare outlets. Of the allocated money, $161.6 million will be devoted to operating the PCEHR system up until the end of 2013-14, while $4.6 million will be used to maintain safeguards for the privacy of the records.

The remaining $67.4 million will make up the Commonwealth's share of funding for the National E-Health Transition Authority (NEHTA) to "operate and maintain critical services and standards for the secure electronic exchange of health information" over the same time period.

The rest of NEHTA's funding will come from the states. Victoria has already indicated that it will provide $16 million to this fund over the next two years.

Despite the level of funding given to the program, the government is expected to save $23.8 million from e-health in this Budget. $183.9 million in funding for telehealth has been redirected into a previously announced National Broadband Network (NBN) telehealth trial, and the National Health Information Network's funding has also been redirected, saving the government $73.6 million.

Part of the savings from telehealth funding will come from the government introducing "minimum distance requirements" for telehealth consultations that medical practitioners can claim back from the government.

"These rules will focus services toward those patients without close access to specialists, and ensure more effective usage and distribution of these services," the Budget states.

The Department of Human Services (DHS) has picked up $3 million in funding over the next three years to support the Medicare aspects of the e-health record launch.

In the 2012-13 financial year, the government is expecting approximately 500,000 Australians to take up the PCEHR service, with 1.5 million in the following year, 2.2 million in the year after and 2.6 million in three years.

The government hopes that the telehealth services trial over the NBN will reach 200 services in the first year, and 400 in the second year.

Health Minister Tanya Plibersek said that the funding in the Budget provides certainty for the e-health record project as it moves from development to operation.

"The roll-out of the national e-health system will be gradual and carefully managed — this is the sensible and prudent way to implement such a large and transformational infrastructure project," she said in a statement.

The minister said it has been estimated that net benefits of the PCEHR program will reach $11.5 billion by 2025.

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