Medical Research Future Fund finally gets Senate approval

Medical Research Future Fund finally gets Senate approval

13th August, 2015

By Jared Owens

The Australian

The Medical Research Future Fund — a signature initiative of the Coalition’s first budget that Treasurer Joe Hockey hoped would help find cures for cancer and dementia — has finally passed the Senate, despite the government’s dumping the GP co-payment that had been ­designed to bankroll it.

The MRFF now will be funded through reduced health spending and about $1 billion left over from the Health and Hospitals Fund designed by the Rudd government to upgrade health infrastructure, until its balance reaches $20bn in 2020.

It will be managed by the ­Future Fund and any interest it generates will be distributed to medical research, beginning with $10 million this year and a further $390m in the next three years.

The fund will be bankrolled by decreased spending on pharmaceuticals, health assessments, dentistry, electronic ­record-keeping, stoma appliances and cutting and merging back-office functions.

Labor, which did not oppose the bill, had warned that some of the savings on Medicare and pharmaceuticals had “no hope” of passing the Senate.

Opposition mental health spokeswoman Jan McLucas also cautioned that the fund could be used to support “pet projects” at the whim of the Health Minister.

“What reassurances are there that this fund couldn’t be used to support research into the alleged health impacts of wind farms or research into chemtrails?” she told parliament.

“The minister of the day gets to make the final funding decisions based on no process of peer review to identify what is valuable and what is not.”

Greens leader Richard Di ­Natale acknowledged it would be “impossible” to protect the fund from political interference, but said he was assured the fund’s aims would be “aligned and complementary” with those of the respected National Health and Medical Research Council.

“Where there are good ideas, the Greens are prepared to support them,” he said.

Health Minister Sussan Ley said the scheme would deliver a “stable and consistent” flow of research funds.

“No investment like this has ever been made, and it will lead the world,” Ms Ley told parliament.

“We know that every dollar we invest in health and medical research returns $2.17.”

The Association of Australian Medical Research Institutes and the George Institute for Global Health both praised senators for supporting the fund, which they predicted would benefit millions of people.

“The MRFF is quite visionary, and money that goes into the fund will generate massive returns for generations, through better health as well as improved and more efficient health maintenance and care,” George Institute Australia executive director Vlado Perkovic said.