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Big gaps in health policies from major parties

04 Sep 2013

AMA President, Dr Steve Hambleton, today urged the major parties to plug the gaps in their election health platforms before Saturday’s election.

Dr Hambleton said that there are lots of votes in positive, forward-looking health policies and there is still time for Mr Rudd and Mr Abbott to pitch more comprehensive health policies to the electorate.

“I set a health policy challenge at the National Press Club in July,” Dr Hambleton said.

“We currently have a new set of problems and challenges in meeting the health needs of the Australian community, and they require a new set of solutions – and that is the great task for the major parties.

“Any change must be tested against the reasons we need proper health reform – mainly our increasing burden of chronic disease and our ageing population.

“Proposals should be moving us toward a joined-up, strengthened primary health care system built on team-based solutions.

“The Labor emphasis to date in this campaign has been on hospital infrastructure, while the Coalition is concentrating on primary care, especially general practice.

“The Greens have focused on access to healthcare, public health and environmental health.  They have a policy that supports the AMA proposal for an independent panel to assess the health of asylum seekers.

“No party has yet produced a comprehensive Indigenous health policy that would provide significant new funding and direction to build on the modest but welcome successes to date of the Closing the Gap strategy.

“The ideal health policy for this election would combine elements of each of the policies on offer from Labor, the Coalition and The Greens – topped with a ‘big bang’ Indigenous health policy and a well-articulated approach to dealing with the growing impact of chronic disease.

“We encourage the major parties to commit to practical and affordable policies that would improve public health, help the most vulnerable and disadvantaged in the community, and ensure a strong, highly skilled medical workforce to meet the future health needs of the community.

“The AMA released a Key Health Issues plan in July, which set out achievable policies that would deliver health service improvements at the front line, directly to patients.

“Some elements have been addressed, but many haven’t.

“We remind our political leaders of what they can do to bolster their health credentials in the final days of the campaign.”

Indigenous Health
No significant new funding or direction to build on the modest but welcome successes to date of the Closing the Gap strategy.

Scrap the Cap
The Government deferred its ill-considered cap on the tax deductibility of self-education expenses, but no party has yet been prepared to dump this policy, which is bad for education, productivity, and the economy, as well as the safety and quality of our health services.

Medical Training
The AMA remains committed to working with the next Government to come up with a long-term policy that supports medical education and training.

Despite the major parties announcing additional intern places in the private sector, which were welcomed, no party has tackled the need to better coordinate the medical training pipeline or address the looming shortage of prevocational and specialist training positions as predicted by Health Workforce Australia.

There needs to be a concerted effort through COAG processes to commit to additional prevocational and specialist training places, including in general practice, with funding to match, in order to ensure that Australia can properly address future community health needs

Chronic Disease
The major parties need to do more to tackle the impact of chronic disease so that we can keep people well and out of hospital.  Current Medicare arrangements impose too much paperwork on GPs and limit access to services for patients with higher health care needs.

The major parties need to do more to support GPs in caring for these patients by streamlining current Medicare arrangements and by looking to adopt innovative approaches such as the Department of Veterans' Affairs Coordinated Veterans Care program more broadly.

We note and welcome the proposed Australian Prevention Partnership Centre, launched today by Federal Minister for Health and Minister for Medical Research Tanya Plibersek, to research what works and what doesn’t in helping people make lifestyle changes to prevent chronic disease.

Rural Health
Rural health has still missed out on the big funding boost it needs to address rural medical workforce shortages.

The AMA/RDAA Rural Rescue Package outlines the funding required to get more doctors into rural and remote Australia, with the right mix of skills to deliver services to these communities

Healthier Australian Families
There has been no specific policy announcement from Labor or the Coalition on significant public health concerns around Better Environmental Health (effects of climate change, better standards for clean air, greater health monitoring of non-conventional gas mining projects), Preventing Harms of Alcohol (curbs on alcohol marketing to young people, minimum pricing for alcohol products), or Asylum Seeker Health (independent panel).

Dementia, Aged Care and Palliative Care
We acknowledge and welcome recent policy announcements around palliative care and dementia, but they do not go to the key issue of access to medical care.

The major parties need to ensure that people with dementia, those who require palliative care, and older Australians with complex and multiple conditions can receive appropriate medical care.  The major parties need to do more to ensure the Medicare arrangements are geared to deal with the increasing numbers of these patients and the need to better manage these patients in the community.

Better recognition of and support for the time that doctors spend assessing patients, organising services and providing support to the patient's family and carers would ensure that quality dementia, palliative and medical care for the elderly is provided inappropriate settings.  This would relieve the counterproductive use of acute services.

Affordable Medical Services
Immediately restore indexation of MBS patient rebates.  Reverse the decision to raise the Extended Medicare Safety Net threshold from 2015.  Restore tax deductibility of out-of-pocket medical and health care gaps.

Authority Prescriptions
While the major parties mention tackling red tape, no party has committed to reducing the time wasted by doctors having to telephone the Department of Human Services (DHS) to obtain an authority to write prescriptions for certain PBS medicines.  Based on DHS information, up to 25,000 patient consultations are lost while doctors wait for their calls to DHS to be answered.

AMA Key Health Issues for the 2013 Federal Election is available on the AMA website at https://ama.com.au/keyhealthissues

The AMA publication, Alcohol Marketing and Young People, is at https://ama.com.au/alcohol-marketing-and-young-people

The AMA submission on air quality is at https://ama.com.au/inquiry-impacts-health-air-quality-australia

The AMA media release calling for coal seam gas health checks is at https://ama.com.au/media/ama-calls-coal-seam-gas-health-checks

The AMA/RDAA Rural Rescue Package is available at https://ama.com.au/node/4136


4 September 2013

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                          Kirsty Waterford                    02 6270 5464 / 0427 209 753

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Published: 04 Sep 2013