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Consumer Health Bodies React to 2014 Budget Health Cuts

Leading consumer health bodies, the Consumer Health Forum of Australia and the Public Health Association of Australia say the 2014 Budget health cuts are kicking people when they’re down.

This budget slashes $8.5 billion from the health budget over four years, while slugging consumers with extra charges to see the doctor and to get prescription medicines.

“The Government has traded the Medicare card for the credit card in requiring millions of Australians to pay out of pocket towards their primary medical care,” says Consumer Health Forum (CHF) Chief Executive, Adam Stankevicius.

“The introduction of a $7 co-payment to see the GP , the prospect of charges to attend public hospital EDs, plus a $5 increase in PBS fees, shatters the notion of universal access to primary care under Medicare,” Mr Stankevicius said.

Michael Moore, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Public Health Association of Australia (PHAA) agreed.

“We vehemently oppose the introduction of a $7 co-payment for GP visits, out-of-hospital pathology and diagnostic imaging services – a regressive measure that will invariably create barriers to accessing primary care for disadvantaged Australians and ultimately lead to larger burdens on hospitals.  The longer term impact will be compounded by a $5 co-payment for PBS-listed medicines and the abolition of the National Preventive Health Agency, General Practice Education and Training Limited and the Australian Medical Local Alliance.  These agencies focused on promoting preventive health approaches and primary health care designed specifically to reduce pressure and costs in hospital and acute settings.  It is vital that there are agencies at the national level to protect and progress the national interest in key areas such as primary health care and preventive health.”

Mr Stankevicius said other shocks are the $635 million  cut to dental spending over four years, $121 million  cuts for indigenous health “rationalisation” and nearly $100 million in cuts to eye health services.

“The removal of the Australian Preventive Health Agency and proposed shrinking of   Medicare Locals reveal a disturbing absence of recognition of the pressing health needs of Australia in 2014.

“While these two initiatives showed plenty of room for improvement, they nonetheless involved an earnest attempt to take on the big drivers of obesity and other chronic conditions like poor diet and exercise, and to counter the lack of locally coordinated and comprehensive health care.

“Replacing the 61 Medicare Locals with a handful of much bigger primary health organisations is more than likely to lead to more bureaucratic, and more remote entities less able to respond flexibly to local issues.

“This health budget offers the distant prospect of a $20 billion medical research future fund but fails to recognise the extraordinary out of pocket costs consumers already face to access essential health care. “Meantime busy doctor’s practices and emergency department will have to spend precious time and resources extracting payments from patients when the available evidence questions the benefit of such co-payments.

“As the co-payments are not scheduled to start until July 2015, we suggest that Health Minister Dutton, use the next year, as proposed by the Commission of Audit, to explore health cost options more deeply.

“CHF believes there is great scope to cut waste — such as reducing the hundreds of thousands of avoidable hospital admissions and curbing unnecessary procedures — before erecting cost barriers to primary care,” Mr Stankevicius said.

Michael Moore  said many of the funding cuts appear to be short sighted approaches that do not recognise the health and economic costs associated with the growing burden of chronic disease.  Almost $8.6 billion will be cut from the Health Budget over 4 years,” said Michael Moore, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the PHAA.

“It has long been said that prevention is better than cure – certainly prevention is cheaper than treatment – and its false economy to cut funding in these areas to achieve short term savings.  As it stands, only about 2% of the health budget is spent on prevention – if the Government wants to reduce pressure on the health budget over time, they should actually be looking to increase that figure.  Instead, expenditure on prevention is reduced dramatically.

“Cutting nearly $54M over the next two years from the Partners in Recovery mental health initiative is also likely to increase the burden on families, communities and the acute care sector.  It is essential that there are comprehensive and cross-portfolio approaches to key health issues – like mental health – at the national level.

“This budget effectively puts the boot into disadvantaged, marginalised and low income Australians in a way that will invariably result in greater costs to the health system in the long term.  It’s long term pain for short term gain – these spending cuts will cost a lot more over time.  It’s not fair, it’s not right and it’s certainly not smart from an economic perspective.  The creation of a new Medical Research Fund will do nothing to mitigate a diminished focus on preventive health at the national level.

“This really is a killer Budget in more ways than one,” concluded Mr Moore.

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