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Crikey Policy Comparison Pt 5: Health care

The dollars may have been flying during this election campaign, but not so much when it comes to health spending. There’s been plenty of talk about health, but in the twilight of this campaign, the federal president of the Australian Medical Association (AMA) has accused both major parties of neglecting health policy during the election campaign. Dr Rosanna Capolingua says very few public health initiatives have been announced by Labor or the Coalition.

The AMA is particularly concerned about health issues that are going to cost taxpayers well into the future, such as obesity.

Here’s an indepth and up-to- date look at the full health policy lists both parties have laid out on the operating table.

Coalition: The Coalition’s health policy is outlined in the Federal Budget, with additional announcements throughout the campaign also added below. It promises:

Health research:

  • $485.8 million in one-off grants for health and medical research infrastructure across 14 schools, centres and institutes.

Family Emergency Medical Centres:

  • Designed to take the pressure off emergency services in hospitals the centres are proposed to provide a practical and family-friendly alternative to public hospital emergency departments at nights and on weekends, as well as regular GP services. The Centres will provide for urgent procedures, such as sports injuries, stitches, fractures and minor burns.

Hospital boards plan:

  • The federal government plans to make its financial contribution to the country’s public hospital systems conditional on the establishment of local boards to oversee management and budgets. Health Minister Tony Abbott has suggested the boards would be comprised of about 10 people with each member paid $10,000 for their services - amounting to an annual cost of more than $75 million.

Chronic illness:

  • $947.1 million towards expanded GP and primary care services, extra funding for hearing and dental care services, and promoting out-of-hospital treatment options.

Access:

  • $538.2 million to fund better access to medicines, primarily through an expansion of subsidies under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme and the Life Saving Drugs Program.
  • $274.5 million to expand rural health initiatives including women’s health services, mental health programs, new medical and dental training clinics and funding for the Flying Doctor Service.

Children’s health:

  • Funding a Wellbeing Plan for Children which will provide “practical support for parents to promote healthy eating and physical activity for children.”
  • The Government has ruled out placing restrictions on junk-food advertising aimed at children.

Aged care:

  • $1.6 billion to expand aged care by opening an extra 7,200 community care places, boosting support for high-care and disadvantaged aged care residents, and introducing a new means tested fee system for aged care accommodation. A Government report  states: “Government must look after people regardless of their capacity to pay the cost of their own care. Equally, those who can do so, should make a greater contribution.”

Transitional beds:

  • The coalition has also matched Labor’s pledge to provide more transitional beds, pledging an extra 2000 transition care places, to cost $117 million over four years, that would help at least 13,000 more older patients leave hospital earlier each year from 2011. Another 4200 patients would also be offered at-home care with the creation of an extra 1000 aged-care places in the community. Capital funds of $46 million would be available for smaller aged-care homes to build or upgrade facilities.

 Preventative strategy:

  • $246.2 million to increase medical protection against preventable illness through immunisation programs, anti venom production and mosquito control operations.
  • $111.6 million for treatment and education programs in the fight against drug and alcohol abuse.
  • $236 million for education and early diagnosis measures to help avoid chronic illnesses such type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol and skin cancer and s-xually transmitted infections, as well as providing grants for physical activity programs.

Mersey Hospital:

  • The Government has also announced that it would push for a Commonwealth take-over of the Mersey Hospital. The initiative is designed to save the hospital from a state government down-grade, and the PM estimates that it will cost between $40-45 million per year. However, the November 1 deadline for a formal takeover was missed because of confusion over doctor accreditation and employment conditions for nurses. While the federal government has taken over financial responsibility for the hospital, one week out from the election it had yet to take formal control, saying it was still waiting to clarify some staff issues.

On top of these initiatives the Coalition plans to establish a $2.5 billion Health and Medical Investment Fund with a portion of the budget surplus. Returns will be spent on healthcare facilities and services in the public and private sectors.

Labor:

National reform:

  • $2 billion over four years in national health reforms designed to reduce avoidable hospitalisations, waiting times for essential services, and provide better aged care. A National Health and Hospitals Reform Commission will be established to develop a reform agenda, and Rudd will attempt to seize control of all public hospitals via referendum if the states do not comply with the plan by 2009.

Elective surgery:

  • Has pledged to invest $600 million to cut waiting lists for elective surgery in Australia’s public hospitals and invest $158 million over five years to create up to 2,000 transition care beds to free up hospital beds and help other older Australians get home.

Dental:

  • Has pledged to invest up to $800 million to fund up to one million additional dental consultations, under a new Commonwealth Dental Health Program, and up to $150 towards the cost of an annual preventative check for over 1 million Australian teenagers.

Private healthcare:

  • The ALP will drop its long-held opposition to private health insurance in a significant shift in policy. April 7, Shadow Minister for Health Nicola Roxon: “The clash between public and private in the health sector is an old one that has had its day. More importantly, Labor is committed to making sure both our public and private systems can work together for the benefit of the community, and that they are of world class standard.”

Children’s health:

  • Funding a Healthy Habits for Life guide designed to provide “practical information to help parents assist their children to develop healthy habits for life.”
  • Establish a Healthy Kids Check for school-aged children which, “developed with the assistance of experts”, will assess a child’s basic health such as teeth, hearing, balance and sight.
  • Labor has announced that it would place restrictions on junk-food marketing aimed at children to help tackle childhood obesity.

Aged care:

  • $458 million in funding and loans to help create an estimated 4,500 extra permanent and transitional care beds for older Australians in order to relieve pressure on hospitals.
  • Establish a national Ambassador for Ageing to ensure that elderly Australians are adequately represented.

Preventative strategy:

  • The ALP released a paper titled Fresh Ideas, Future Economy: Preventative health care for our families and future economy. It outlines Labor’s broader preventative health-care strategy, which Shadow Minister for Health Nicola Roxon describes as being designed to alleviate the “burden of chronic disease” by keeping people healthy and out of hospital.

The initiative involves:

  • Developing a National Preventative Health Strategy, supported by an “expert taskforce”, that will tackle diseases linked to obesity, tobacco, and excessive consumption of alcohol
  • Incentives for GPs to practice more comprehensive primary care in order to keep people out of hospital
  • Increased cooperation with the States and Territories through a Preventative Health Care Partnership
  • Funding a series of Treasury reports on the impact of chronic disease on the Australian economy, focusing on the economic benefits of a preventative approach to health care.

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