Has the latest budget placed health firmly on the back burner?

19 May, 2009

Major health reform seems to have been placed on the back burner in considerations of the Federal Budget, according to Tony McBride, Chair of the Australian Health Care Reform Alliance (AHCRA).

“There has been very little attention given to the system-wide changes that many will be looking for once the various health reform bodies have reported to the Government,” McBride said.

“We hope there will be another round of announcements later in the year and that the Government has not already used all the shots in its locker. AHCRA is supportive of some of the likely proposals to come from the National Health and Hospitals Reform Commission, and these will certainly need to be resourced.

“If further resources are not made available it would suggest the government may have become wary of major reform even before final proposals have seen the light of day.”

AHCRA consists of over 50 national and State-wide health organisations representing health services, health professionals and consumers. It seeks major change in the Australian health system to make it more equitable, accessible and sustainable.

“This is very much a ‘Health Lite’ Budget,” McBride said. “There are some modest and welcome measures, especially for Indigenous services, regional hospital infrastructure, maternity and cancer services, and the enhanced role for midwives and nurse practitioners in an evolving health system. Their proposed access to Medicare and the Pharmaceutical Benefits System is an especially welcome reform that will increase access and equity.”

In principle AHCRA welcomes the proposed means testing of the private health insurance rebate scheme, which will affect only the very wealthiest Australians. However, that support is qualified by uncertainty about whether there has actually been a net increase in funds for health – or whether the savings have gone to consolidated revenue.

“If this is only a first step then it is positive. But given the rebate system’s basic flaws, in AHCRA’s view it should have been scrapped.”

The private health insurance rebate is poor policy. It is inequitable, taking tax money from everyone but channelling rebates predominantly to the better off. It is also more expensive – private insurance companies are much costlier to run than Medicare.

“Crucially, it does not produce the best outcomes for all Australians for its significant cost – $2.5 billion even in its new form. A lot of public health services could be provided for that money, including in rural Australia where private services are thin on the ground.”