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12 May 2016

The AMA has called on whoever wins the Federal Election to bring an immediate end to the Medicare rebate freeze, boost public hospital funding and retain bulk billing incentives for pathology and diagnostic imaging services.

Launching the AMA’s policy manifesto for the election at Parliament House today, AMA President Professor Brian Owler said health will be at the core of the contest between the major parties, and whoever forms government “must significantly invest in the health of the Australian people”.

“Elections are about choices. The type of health system we want is one of those crucial decisions,” Professor Owler said.

The Turnbull Government is facing a backlash from patients and the medical profession over a series of controversial funding cuts, including the Budget move to extend the Medicare rebate freeze to 2020, to slash billions from the future funding of public hospitals, and to axe bulk billing incentives for pathology services.

The Medicare rebate freeze, initially introduced by Labor in 2013 and extended twice by the Coalition since, has been condemned as a policy to introduce a patient co-payment “by stealth”, with warnings it threatens the financial viability of many practices and will force many GPs to abandon bulk billing and begin to charge their patients.

“The freeze on MBS indexation will create a two-tier health system, where those who can afford to pay for their medical treatment receive the best care and those who cannot are forced to delay their treatment or avoid it altogether,” the AMA’s Key Health Issues for the 2016 Federal Election document said.

Professor Owler said the freeze will mean “patients pay more for their health care. It also affects the viability of medical practices.”

The AMA President has also warned that massive cuts to public hospital funding were likely to stymie improvements in their performance and increase the delays patients face.

In 2014, the Coalition Government announced it would scale back growth in hospital funding, savings $57 billion over 10 years, provoking a storm of protest from State and Territory governments. To try to placate them ahead of the Federal Election, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull thrashed out a deal to provide an extra $2.9 billion over the three years to 2020.

But Professor Owler said the funds were an inadequate short-term fix that fell “well short of what is needed for the long term”.

The AMA has called on the major parties to commit to adequate long-term public hospital funding, including an annual rate indexation that provides for population growth and demographic change.

The Government is also under pressure over its decision to save $650 million over four years by scrapping bulk billing incentives for pathology services and reducing them for diagnostic imaging services, with loud warnings it will deter many patients, particularly the sickest and most vulnerable, from undertaking the tests they need to manage their health and stay out of hospital.

The AMA said the move was a “short-sighted policy that will ultimately cost future government and the Australian community much more in having to treat more complicated disease – disease that could have been identified or avoided through good access to pathology and diagnostic imaging services”.

It said the major parties should commit to maintaining the current subsidies.

In addition, the AMA is calling for all those contesting the Federal Election to commit to:

  • advancing the care of patients with chronic illnesses by providing adequate funding of the Government’s Health Care Homes trial;
  • ensuring the medical workforce meets future community need by boosting GP and specialist training programs and completing workforce modelling by the end of 2018;
  • increasing funding for Indigenous health services and strengthen programs to address preventable health problems;
  • improving the GP infrastructure grants program;
  • increasing investment in preventive health initiatives;
  • cracking down on the marketing and promotion of e-cigarettes, including banning their sale to children; and
  • adopting a National Physical Activity Strategy to improve health and reduce the incidence of obesity, heart disease, diabetes, stroke and other illnesses.

“The next Government must significantly invest in the health of the Australian people,” Professor Owler said. “Investment in health is the best investment that governments can make.”

The AMA’s Key Health Issues for the 2016 Federal Election document is available at https://ama.com.au/article/key-health-issues-federal-election-2016

Adrian Rollins


Published: 12 May 2016