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10 Apr 2018

BY AMA VICE PRESIDENT DR TONY BARTONE

There is no shortage of health issues making headlines at the moment, and not all of the news is positive.

Furthemore, there is often misleading and misinformed comments being made by certain interest groups with their own axes to grind.

But at the end of the day, there are several serious issues that need to be addressed and require the attention of governments and policy makers.

The AMA Private Health Insurance Report Card 2018 was recently released and revealed ongoing significant variations in coverage from the insurers.

It provides an overview of how private health insurance should work to benefit patients, how complex it is and highlights how proposed new arrangements will result in ensuring less choice and value for policy holders.

There are a lot of policies on offer that provide significantly varying levels of benefits, cover, and gaps. And there are also a lot of ‘junk’ policies on the market that will not provide the cover that consumers expect when they need it.

Now, the Government has undertaken some important reforms to private health insurance – and the AMA has had input into the gold, silver, bronze, and basic categories of cover that was announced.

But some private insurers are trying to undo much of this work and are moving ominously towards a US style managed care product.

The Federal Government must not allow this to happen.

The AMA Public Hospital Report Card, which was also recently released, provides compelling evidence that all of the nation’s Governments need to meet in good faith to re-negotiate the COAG 2020-2025 hospital funding agreement if public hospitals are to build capacity to meet rapidly growing community health needs.

Public hospital funding crisis is the responsibility of all Governments and the blame game between the States and Canberra must end.

As our President stressed when we both launched the Report Card in Brisbane, the current funding formula will doom our public hospitals to fail, and patients will suffer as a result. It also shone a light on the hidden waiting list of patients wanting to see a specialist in outpatient departments – often as much as 12 or 18 months and sometimes even more.

The average annual growth in Federal health funding of 2.8 per cent over the past five years and 4.3 per cent over the decade is too low. Equally, funding by the States has not kept pace with health inflation, with average growth rates of just 3.2 per cent over the last five years and 4.3 per cent over the decade.

The current COAG agreement is a funding formula destined to fail. We need better than that. There needs to be greater recognition by Governments of the vital role public hospitals play in our health system, and fund them accordingly for the long term.

And so much more should be done towards trying to keep people healthier and needing to visit hospitals less.

The quality and productivity of Australia’s GPs is up with the best in the world and the latest Productivity Commission Report offers compelling evidence of exactly that.

The Government must provide greater investment and support for general practice, which will in turn help alleviate the burden on our public hospitals – which are also in dire need of greater funding and resources.

According to the Productivity Commission, the number of GP services in 2016-17 was 6.5 per annum per head of population, which is up from 5.9 services per head of population in 2011-12.

About 75 per cent of patients could get a GP appointment within 24 hours in 2016-17. However, we know that there is still significant redundancy in the availability of GP appointments on any given day based on online appointment data.

This news reflects growing demand for GP services and an increase in GP numbers.

The Productivity Commission also found that patients were highly satisfied with their GPs on a number of measures.

It all adds up to the need for Governments to provide the level of support that general practice warrants and which Australian patients deserve.

Governments at all levels can’t keep doing things the same way. Long-term solutions are required. More and more Government committees, however, is not the answer.

Our AMA will continue to lobby and fight hard to see some real changes to the way our public hospitals are resourced; to the type of investment given to general practice; to how aged care problems are addressed; to how the medical workforce is built; and so much more.

Business as usual doesn’t cut it anymore.

 


Published: 10 Apr 2018