Funding flows for heart checks & cardiovascular research

By Mardi Chapman

28 Feb 2019

The federal government has announced a new dedicated MBS item number for heart health checks by GPs will be introduced on April 1.

The initiative has cross-party support with Opposition leader Bill Shorten and the Greens also promising to make the $170 million investment.

The Heart Foundation, who only last week launched their Australia’s biggest serial killer media campaign for primary prevention in partnership with News Corp, has welcomed the announcement.

“We have had an incredible response to our campaign, with almost 140,000 Australians completing our Heart Age calculator online, and we now also have broad-based political support for a dedicated item number on the Medicare Benefits Schedule for heart health checks,” the Foundation’s Group CEO Adjunct Professor John Kelly said.

Costed at $170 million over five years, cardiovascular risk assessments could potentially prevent 76,500 heart attacks through the use of risk reduction interventions such as statins, which would add $600 million in PBS costs but overall would save the economy more than $1.5 billion.

However the new MBS item number has others, including GPs, questioning the rationale behind the decision to focus on health checks for a specific condition – cardiovascular disease – especially ahead of a likely May federal election date.

An August 2018 Report from the General Practice and Primary Care Clinical Committee for the MBS Review Taskforce found there was limited evidence to support health assessments.

“Health Checks led to an overall increase in the number of new diagnoses and more treatment, and lessened patient worry, but did not improve morbidity or mortality, leading most studies to conclude that health checks on the general population are not warranted.”

“There is some evidence that CVD systematic risk assessment may have favourable effects on CVD risk factors, but not enough to justify introduction of general screening,” concluded the review committee that included former RACGP president Professor Claire Jackson.

Meanwhile, Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt has also announced funding of $220 million from the Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) for a 10-year Mission for Cardiovascular Health.

The Mission will be overseen by an appointed expert advisory panel and chaired by the University of Sydney’s Professor Gemma Figtree.

The Mission includes the recently announced $20 million in funding to better understand genetic causes and treatment options for congenital heart.

The Government has also recently promised $35 million in MRFF funding to fast-track clinical trials and the commercial production of a vaccine to combat rheumatic heart disease.

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