Portrait of a Group of women in the studio. Multi-ethnic group including Caucasian, Hispanic, middle eastern, Asian and African American. One middle eastern woman is wearing a hijab

The Budget delivers promising telehealth reforms but we need further investment

Sigrid Firth Abortion, Advocacy, Equity and access, Media

The Budget delivers promising telehealth reforms but we need further investment

If the Government is serious about the National Women’s Health Strategy, we will need further investment in abortion care to ensure proposed measures succeed. Federal Budget announcements this week include promising telehealth reforms, and highlights a mixture of benefits and gaps in other areas of sexual and reproductive health.

The announcement follows extensive lobbying, including an open letter signed by hundreds of doctors, nurses and health sector leaders across Australia. Included in the announcement was sexual and reproductive health consultations and pregnancy counselling services. Temporary telehealth measures have been extended until the end of 2021, with an expanded scope of providers. While further details are yet to be clarified, these measures will increase access. It is critical that Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) item numbers are reviewed and further extended in coming months to enable a revised telehealth model to be rolled out in 2022.

Strategic investment in preventative care is lacking. The Budget enables investment in important prevention initiatives such as gynaecological cancer screening, long acting reversible contraception (LARC) and endometriosis care. Unfortunately, the level of investment is not enough to fund the National Preventative Health Strategy implementation, which would have long term populations health impacts. Gaps remain in funding for the social and cultural determinants of health, particularly for people experiencing intersections of homelessness or financial hardship. Similarly, the women’s safety package under delivers on the prevention of violence, despite providing some investment in violence intervention and response. Investment in Women’s Legal Services and other essential services will provide support options for victim-survivors of violence.

The Women’s Budget Statement links to the National Women’s Health Strategy 2020-2030. Investments in the Strategy total $535.8 million, which includes the previously announced $343.9 million Women’s Health Package. At this stage it is very unclear how these funds will support sexual and reproductive healthcare for priority populations, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, women with disability, migrant and refugee women including women on temporary visas, and LGBTIQ+ people.

We are unsure if the funding of women’s health will resource equitable access to abortion care. Marie Stopes Australia continues to rely upon regular Choice Fund donations, where every dollar goes towards healthcare for pregnant people experiencing hardship who cannot otherwise afford their choice of abortion care.  In the past year the number of regular donors, philanthropists and the size of their donations have dramatically reduced. It is becoming increasingly difficult for Maries Stopes Australia to provide subsidised access to abortion care and remain financially viable.

Beyond telehealth reforms, this Budget indicates that it will be up to individual jurisdictions to invest in the provision of abortion care. Discussions with Governments in coming weeks and months will provide further clarity on resourcing for sexual and reproductive health.

Quotes from Jamal Hakim, Managing Director

“Telehealth extensions and expansions are welcome. These measures will increase sexual and reproductive health access including medical abortion care.”

“This is the first year that abortion access has been decriminalised across Australia so there are no excuses for State or Territory Governments that fail to invest in the provision of abortion care.”

“Abortion access in Australia is a postcode lottery. The Budget highlights that leadership will be required at all levels of Government to ensure abortion provision across metropolitan, regional and remote areas.”

“Preventative healthcare is a short term investment for long term benefits. The Budget is a missed opportunity for prevention.”

– Ends –

For further information or to interview Jamal Hakim contact, Marie Stopes Australia, 0428 396 391.

Marie Stopes Australia is a national not for profit provider of sexual and reproductive health services including permanent and long-acting reversible contraception and abortion care. For more information on our clinic network visit mariestopes.org.au.