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Health rationing: Australia 'can learn' from international examples

19 February, 2015

As governments around Australia grapple with health budget challenges, a focus on rationing healthcare is inevitable. Australia already has some well-regarded rationing processes in place, but we can look to international examples to improve current rationing practices.

A new health policy issues brief by the Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association's (AHHA) Deeble Institute 2014 Writing Prize Recipient, Elizabeth Martin, urges Australian governments to look at international best-practices to facilitate better healthcare rationing in Australia.

"To ensure healthcare resources are used as efficiently as possible, Australian governments need to adopt a more consistent, explicit and evidence-informed approach to rationing," said Martin. "Governments will then be better placed to decide whether to continue funding programs, services and treatments or to fund better value for money programs, services and treatments instead."

"There are a few examples in Australia, such as the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee and the Medical Services Advisory Committee (MSAC), that use information on cost-effectiveness. But overall there are a number of weaknesses in Australia's healthcare rationing processes that are preventing evidence-based decision making on what should or should not continue to receive funding," said Martin.

"The launch of Choosing Wisely Australia in 2015 is a step in the right direction, but as we can see from Ms Martin's brief, there is still work to be done. The Australian Government must consult widely across the health sector, including health services, clinicians and consumers, and work with its state and territory counterparts," said Alison Verhoeven, AHHA Chief Executive.

"Choosing Wisely would efficiently inform the next stage as MSAC reviews existing Medical Benefits Schedule item numbers," said Verhoeven. "Equally, reviewing existing Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme products for their continued appropriateness and efficient cost is necessary as research and development in pharmaceutical technology continues to advance."

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