Improving health and budget 'not necessarily mutually exclusive'

20 January, 2014

The long term sustainability of Australia's Medicare system is a pressing problem, but health minister Peter Dutton is right to avoid making any hasty decisions about reforming it, according to the Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association (AHHA).

The association believes any reform options – such as introducing patient co-payments for visits to GPs or emergency departments – need to be considered as part of a long-term strategy to improve health outcomes and the efficiency and effectiveness of our health system.

The AHHA represents Australia's largest group of health care providers in public hospitals, community and primary health sectors and advocates for universal high quality healthcare to benefit the whole community.

"The AHHA is a strong advocate for Medicare and welcomes the government's commitment to finding ways of ensuring it continues to meet the needs of Australians," said Alison Verhoeven, chief executive of the AHHA.

"Changes to Medicare have often been made with short-term objectives in mind, or without understanding the flow-on impact in other areas of the health system. Because improving the sustainability of the health system is so complex, potential reform options need to be given full consideration.

"Co-payments proposed for bulkbilled visits to GPs or for emergency department visits may assist in addressing sustainability issues in the health system but are blunt instruments which will also have negative impacts," Verhoeven said.

There are a range of measures such as a disinvestment strategy, value-based fee versus fee-for-service models, and alternative workforce models, which deserve more consideration from a government seriously committed to a world class health system.

"The AHHA urges the government to examine the full range of options, looking for the ones that are best able to improve the health of Australians and the budget bottom line. The task is not easy, and requires robust evidence which can only be achieved through a thorough review process."