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Inmates' Medicare would 'benefit everyone'

Inmates' Medicare would 'benefit everyone'
Photo: Inmates' Medicare would 'benefit everyone'
The Medicare exclusion for prisoners should be overturned, a move which researchers say would benefit the whole health system.

Giving prisoners access to Medicare would lead to long-term savings for the Australian health system, say experts.

Inmates have some of the highest rates of mental illness and chronic and communicable diseases, but rarely get the appropriate treatment or medications before returning to the community.

Researchers from Melbourne, New South Wales and Griffith universities say prisoners are missing out because health care is too expensive to provide without access to Medicare.

In a Medical Journal of Australia article, they say cost sharing between the states, territories and the Commonwealth would provide prisoners with the same health care as other Australians.
Lead researcher Professor Stuart Kinner says prisoners are excluded from Medicare, with their health care transferred to state and territory government departments.

"Prisons are uniquely placed to detect health problems, initiate care and promote health and this has important health benefits for the communities to which prisoners return," he said.

The researchers say the federal health minister should end the prisoners' exclusion from Medicare, so rebates can be claimed for prison-based services in certain circumstances.

"This would allow prisons to retain their existing health service delivery model but enhance service delivery through access to certain Medicare items at minimal cost," he said.

"Our mixed-funding model aligns with current government policy, whereby health resources can be directed to where they will be most effective in improving the health of all Australians."

Given the over-representation of Indigenous Australians in prisons, a system which delivered a specific health assessment for them also would have "strong cost-effectiveness credentials".


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