Cash for long covid? Don’t hold your breath

3 minute read

The government’s response to the long covid inquiry took almost a year to formulate and ultimately delivered … not much.

The aptly long-awaited government response to the parliamentary inquiry into long covid acknowledges and agrees that the disease is a problem, yet declines to commit to new solutions.  

It’s taken around 11 months for the government to deliver its response to the inquiry’s final report, Sick and Tired: Casting a Long Shadow.

The inquiry itself was led by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Health, Aged Care and Sport.

They had nine recommendations, which ranged from officially adopting the World Health Organisation definition of long covid to funding general practice education and clinical guidelines on the condition.

Ultimately, the government only fully supported two of the recommendations: that Australia adopt the WHO long covid definition and that the government improve its vaccination communication strategy.

The rest were either partially supported, supported in principle only or were simply “noted”.

While “noting” that primary care would manage the bulk of long covid care, the government’s response did not reveal any grand plan to spring to the rescue with new funding.

In response to the recommendation to review the MBS chronic disease management item number to ensure GPs were supported to diagnose and manage the disease, it pointed to planned MyMedicare block funding initiatives.

“In particular, the introduction of MyMedicare will support the continuity of care and improve access to telehealth for patients registered with their local GP,” the government response said.

“Changes from 1 November 2024, including an increase to the rebate for reviews of chronic disease management plans by GPs, should encourage more regular patient management and treatment reviews.”

Only one proposal was definitively ruled out: pharmacist-initiated antiviral treatments for PBS-eligible patients.

“Antiviral treatments for covid-19 are currently classified as Schedule 4 medicines through their scheduling in the Poisons Standard,” the response read.

“Schedule 4 medicines are intended to be prescribed by medical or dental professionals, in accordance with the national policy for 12 applying access restrictions on all poisons agreed by the Commonwealth and all state and territory health ministers.”

The government does have to comply with current legislation, the response noted.

No new funding for long covid was announced alongside the government response, with Health Minister Mark Butler pointing out that it had already committed $50 million to funding long covid research through the Medical Research Future Fund.

It’s also “developed a national plan to provide a framework for the health response to long covid” – so it has a plan to make a plan for another plan.

“The Albanese government is strengthening Medicare for all Australians, but particularly to provide the kind of multidisciplinary team-based healthcare for people with chronic and complex conditions like long covid,” Mr Butler said.

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