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13 Mar 2019

BY AMA PRESIDENT DR TONY BARTONE

The AMA has been particularly busy since the start of the year in the media, in the corridors and offices of Parliament House meeting with senior Ministers and Shadow Ministers, including the Opposition Leader, and in communities across Australia talking about the importance of good health policy and improving access to quality health care for all Australians.

It is our job to ensure that our political leaders make health a priority issue at the Federal election, which now is almost certain to be in mid-May.

To raise the profile of health policy in the minds of our politicians, we must help educate and inform and communicate with the Australian public – our patients.

It is their experiences in the health system – and the experiences of the hardworking doctors and other health professionals who treat and care for them – that inform AMA policy and, in turn, influences and shapes Government and Opposition health policy.

Every day since the last election, the AMA has been active in promoting better policies for private health insurance, Medicare rebates, aged care, mental health, asylum seeker health, Indigenous health, general practice, rural health, medical workforce, the broad range of public health issues, and public hospitals – to name just a few.

Our advocacy is getting results. We have seen recent Government responses in aged care, mental health, health care costs for families, and private health.

At the same time, we are seeing clear signs that the general public – the voters – see health as a key issue, if not the key issue, that will determine who forms the next government. The most recent example is polling conducted by JWS Research, which was published in the Australian Financial Review earlier this month.

The poll showed that hospitals, health care, and ageing had overtaken cost of living concerns as top-of-mind for voters, with 60 per cent of Australians rating health as the biggest issue.

Of that 60 per cent, women and older adults were the categories of voters with the greatest worries about health services and facilities.

At 57 per cent, cost of living remains a significant factor for voters.

Interestingly, the issues that the Government has been highlighting in order to drive points of difference with the Opposition – namely immigration and border security; the environment; energy; and defence, security, and terrorism – rate much lower with voters at 36, 33, 31, and 23 per cent respectively.

Nevertheless, senior media commentators in Canberra firmly believe that the Government will run very hard on these issues at the election, ahead of issues like health, education, and social services.

Private party polling and focus groups will determine election strategy for the major parties more than the public surveys, especially in some electorates with interesting three-way contests.

That is why the AMA must and will increase the volume and frequency of our health policy advocacy and lobbying in coming months.

The first big test is just weeks away with the Federal Budget on April 2. The Budget – and the Budget response – will provide some clarity about how much prominence (and new funding) the major parties will promise the electorate.

The second big test is the election campaign itself – five or six weeks of furious activity that we will monitor closely and respond to announcements as and when necessary.

We hope it is a genuine contest of ideas to make our health system better – and properly resourced.

Now, more than ever, we need a clear enunciation of a vision for health – one that charts a course through a changing paradigm of increased longevity, growing chronic disease burden, and efficient new models of delivering health care, while maintaining our reputation as a world leader in health care, equity, and access.

The stark reality is that new funding is needed, a lot of it, and in many areas of the health system. And we need clever allocation of the funding and resources. I repeat – this will require vision. And political bravery. These are things that have been missing from health policy for some considerable time.

The AMA will stand ready with our Key Health Issues manifesto for an election campaign that should kick off just days after the Government has determined how well its Budget promises and largesse have been received by the media and the voters. Good health policy wins votes.


Published: 13 Mar 2019