Fears of Medicare Local axing

TASMANIA Medicare Local chairwoman Judith Watson says staff are "extremely concerned" by speculation the Medicare Local system will be axed in next month's federal budget.

The ABC reported yesterday that several Medicare Local chief executives were told the federal government planned to shut down the 61 community health organisations spread across the country.

This comes after the government ordered a review of the $1.8 billion initiative, which was established by the Rudd government.

Dr Watson, who is also a Launceston GP, said that while TML staff had heard the rumours, they had no idea what to expect when the budget was handed down on May 13.

She said TML, which was established in November 2011, employed 150 people statewide and delivered thousands of services specific to local needs across areas like mental health, chronic disease, refugee health, after- hours and aged care.

"We're supporting the population directly and also the providers of primary health care services to keep people well and out of hospital," Dr Watson said.

She said it wasn't clear what would happen to the millions in Tasmanian Health Assistance Package 2012 - 2016 funding allocated to TML to deliver services if the organisation was closed.

"In the 2 1/2 years that we've been going, we've got some wonderful partnerships and a lot of the programs and contracts that we've been tasked with running are only in their early stages," Dr Watson said.

"If they were to be cut off that would be most unfortunate."

University of Tasmania political scientist Richard Eccleston said that while the Medicare Local model needed to be scrutinised and evaluated, he didn't think it would be a good idea to cut it while it was still in its infancy.

"With an initiative of this nature and scale, you can't really evaluate the program in terms of the benefits that are followed through for about three to five years," Dr Eccleston said.

A spokesman for federal Health Minister Peter Dutton said he would not comment on speculation.

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