Indigenous health funding needs to match Indigenous health needs
BY AMA PRESIDENT DR TONY BARTONE, CHAIR OF AMA INDIGENOUS TASKFORCE
Equitable, needs-based funding must be committed to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health or the Government’s own goal of closing the health and life expectancy gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians will never be achieved. Despite the fact that that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities experience disproportionately higher rates of diabetes, cancer, kidney disease and obesity, and have rates of avoidable deaths and hospitalisations three times higher than other Australians, there is a major shortfall in current government funding for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health services.
As the AMA’s 2018 Report Card on Indigenous Health showed, the burden of disease for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is 2.3 times greater than their non-Indigenous peers, but overall Government funding is only 53 per cent of the needs-based requirements. Governments must stop the repeated process of providing fragmented, piecemeal funding and resource Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health services accordingly to make a real change.
Spending less per capita on those with worse health, and particularly on their primary health care services is dysfunctional national policy. Similarly, spending more on health services for those who are in more need is not special treatment – it is an uncontroversial proposition. Governments spend proportionally more on the health of elderly people in Australia compared to younger people, simply because the health needs of elder people are proportionally greater. It raises the question about why this is not the case for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians whose needs are much higher than the rest of the population as a whole.
The newly elected Federal Government has the opportunity to turn around previous policy failures and make a serious commitment to truly closing the gap in health and life expectancy by resourcing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health to the level that is required. The AMA has called for the Government to increase funding for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health services by committing $100 million over four years to fill health service gaps and address the underutilisation of the Medicare Benefits Scheme and Pharmaceuticals Benefits Scheme by Indigenous Australians, which is about one-half and one-third of needs-based requirements, respectively.
It is extraordinary that Federal Governments can identify savings to create a budget surplus and promise tax cuts, but they cannot find money to boost funding for its own Closing the Gap strategy – a measure that was implemented specifically to improve the health and wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. If the Government’s commitment to adequately budget for the health and wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people matched the promises made over the years, we would be a lot nearer to closing the gap in health outcomes and life expectancy and not have a life expectancy gap that is currently widening.
The AMA is pleased that Governments have recently entered into a formal partnership agreement with the Coalition of Aboriginal Peak organisations to negotiate the new Closing the Gap Strategy. It is widely known that when Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are involved in the design and implementation of the policies and programs that affect their lives, better outcomes are achieved.
Not only is closing the gap in health and life expectancy between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people an achievable task – it is also an agreed national priority. The AMA will continue to call on Governments to invest in long-term funding and commitments to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health. We will work closely with key ministers, government departments and other key stakeholders to ensure that appropriate action is taken.
Published: 14 May 2019