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06 Dec 2018


As Christmas draws nearer with the promise of, hopefully, a quieter time for most Australians, the pressure is growing on the major parties to finalise the health policies they will take to the next election, expected in May.

The Government has been sent a very clear message by the results of the Victorian election and the Wentworth by-election, with health featuring prominently in both those elections.

Former AMA President, Professor Kerryn Phelps, the new Independent Member for Wentworth, ran hard on health issues in her winning campaign.

The Victorian Labor Government went to the voters with promises of significant investment in hospitals, a mental health royal commission, and free dental care for state school children.

Health must and will be one of the priorities for voters in the Federal election.

The Government still has many balls in the air, which need urgent resolution.

The biggest, of course, is the MBS Review – and it is starting to cause significant alarm in the profession as new items are being rushed out to clear the decks ahead of the election.

Haste makes waste, and this is becoming clear as the MBS Review rollout continues at pace. It is almost impossible to keep up. Doctors, health insurers, government agencies, hospitals, and other authorities are having problems absorbing the new information and reflecting the changes in fees and business practices.

It seriously is bordering on a crisis. The AMA has and continues to advise the Government and the Minister to consult more closely in this process. This could end badly.

The AMA position on the Government’s My Health Record is quite clear. Following very robust representations from the AMA, the Government has legislated changes to make the Record more secure by tightening controls on privacy, confidentiality, and third-party access.

It is our view that the My Health Record needs to succeed. There will be teething issues, but the Record will make a difference. It will be part of that innovative next step in the process of transformation in the way we handle and manage health information for the benefit of our patients - and with the stewardship of scarce health resources critically important in the mix.

It will reduce duplication and wastage. It will reduce complications and readmissions through medication mismanagement. It will have the potential to save lives - our patients’ lives.

On private health, we have called on the Government to undertake a public education campaign to explain the new Gold, Silver, Bronze, and Basic categories of private health insurance policies. These changes are far from perfect.

However, private health insurance is perilously facing possibly becoming an irrelevant commodity. Patients need to know clearly what they will get for their significant investment. Otherwise they will shun the product, and the system will suffer.

On a positive note, the AMA exerted significant influence over the passing of the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission Bill 2018 with an amendment that stipulates a Chief Clinical Advisor, who must be a medical practitioner, will be appointed to assist the Aged Care Commissioner.

Aged care has re-emerged as a significant health policy issue.

Meanwhile, the AMA remains in tight, detailed, and lengthy negotiations with the Government over one of the ‘make or break’ policies at the next election – a significant new investment in general practice.

We have made it abundantly clear to both Minister Greg Hunt and Shadow Minister Catherine King that general practice is the mainstay of primary care in Australia – but it is at breaking point.

We continue to press strongly for a significant package of GP reforms – backed by appropriate funding and resources to refresh and upscale infrastructure.

Our hardworking and dedicated general practices and GPs need support. Their integral position needs to be understood and appreciated by our political leaders as a valuable piece of the health care system. It is local. It is efficient. It is cost effective. And, if properly resourced, it can enhance the linkages in our health pathways and truly deliver better outcomes for our community.

What about Labor, I hear you say? The Labor Opposition cannot be complacent on health policy either. They have already announced a funding policy for public hospitals, but remain vague on My Health Record, private health, mental health, and aged care.

Labor cannot depend on going into the election with another Mediscare campaign. Voters want positives, not negatives - another clear message from the recent Victorian election. They must engage deeply with the electorate.

Both sides need to tell us what they will be doing on public health, prevention, Indigenous health, asylum seeker health, aged care, and mental health – along with the major structural, access, and affordability reforms.

They need to articulate a vision, a blueprint for change, which is both transformational and recognises that we need to get ahead of the curve in management, presentation, and, more importantly, prevention.

The AMA will release its election policy manifesto early in 2019.

So, strap yourselves in. The next six months will be quite a ride all the way to election day.

I wish all AMA members and your families a safe, relaxing, and rewarding holiday season.

Published: 06 Dec 2018