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15 Aug 2016

After a substantial delay, we now have a Government, and both major parties are in soul-searching mode.

What was clear from the election campaign was the significant focus on health. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull indicated that the so-called ‘scare campaign’ on the privatisation of Medicare had had some effect, and the Coalition needed to do more to reassure the electorate that his Government was committed to health, hospitals and Medicare funding.

This is all highly noble in hindsight, but it is clear the Government had left the door wide open for the scare campaign, with several health-related faux-pas leading up to the election, including the proposal for co-payments, and some of its lingering health policies. Australians value their health, but particularly the work of public hospital doctors. A scare campaign does little to instil confidence in a system buckling under the pressure of enormous budget cuts and ongoing high expectations for service delivery.

You will remember that there were two models of co-payment, and both of them were roundly rejected by the AMA. Neither model accounted for the neediest in our community, who frequent our public hospitals. Evidence suggests that some people, when faced with even nominal costs, will defer necessary visits to the doctor, and even potentially life-saving procedures or investigations such as blood tests, x-rays or ultrasounds. This just compounds problems down the track, with patients more likely to face emergency presentations.

We understand the Government's desire to constrain health spending, but sustained health care available to all Australians is the most economical model in the long run. We don’t want to emulate highly-paid CEOs and their short-term financial goals. Whatever model we develop, we must account for those in the community whose access to health care is constrained by factors such as location and/or social and economic circumstances.

The AMA needs to be part of an open, responsible debate about funding the national health system. There are elements of the health system that the Commonwealth pays for directly, but State Governments are struggling to fund the increasing demands on health and public hospitals, leading to the budget cuts we know too well.

It should not be forgotten that our health system represents great value for money by world standards, particularly in certain areas, but our public hospitals are now overtly overworked and underfunded. They are truly an investment in the health of our nation, our economic productivity and our future. Minister Ley must continue to make these arguments at the highest levels of Cabinet.

Having admitted that health worked against it in the election, the Government must now “wise up” and set a new health policy direction. Alongside issues such as the Medicare rebate freeze, the Government must, from the public hospital doctors’ perspective, properly fund public hospitals and make a renewed commitment to investing in preventive health measures.

Most importantly, the Government must consult closely with the profession in the development of health policies to ensure better outcomes. They must recognise that the medical profession is best placed to advise on health policy.

I look forward to engaging with you through the Council of Public Hospital Doctors as we advocate on these and other important issues and brace for the journey ahead.


Published: 15 Aug 2016