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Consumer Health Forum Calls for Inquiry to Ensure Universal Access to Quality Health Care

The Consumers Health Forum is urging the Federal Government to establish a comprehensive inquiry aimed at ensuring Australia retains universal access to quality health care.

“Recent disclosures concerning a proposed $6 co-payment to see the GP, and Medibank Private’s trial of a scheme giving preferment to GP patients with health insurance, point to a disturbing erosion of Medicare’s goal of access for all to primary health care,” says CHF spokesman, Mark Metherell.

“The central aim of a national health scheme is to ensure access to quality health care for all.   The introduction of cost barriers, and enhanced access for insured patients that leaves behind the uninsured majority, strikes at the heart of Medicare and the role of primary healthcare.  “CHF is alarmed that the Commission of Audit may consider recommending co-payments such as the one proposed for GP visits as a budgetary measure. “Such a measure would accelerate the trend towards a two-tiered health system in which many Australians, even those with health insurance, must pay substantial out of pocket costs for necessary treatment.

“We urge the Government to resist the temptation to introduce this ad hoc response that could in fact lead to higher healthcare costs in the long run, and poorer health for those on low incomes and the chronically ill.

”In its submission to the Commission of Audit and in its budget submission, CHF has argued that there are alternative programs which could result in bigger savings in the health budget, and not put consumers’ health outcomes at risk.

“Medicare turns 30 years old next month and CHF acknowledges that it is in need of a revamp to meet contemporary demands arising from such developments as widespread chronic illness and population ageing. “CHF understands that the Government needs to respond to Medicare’s rapidly increasing costs.  But before making changes that weaken Medicare’s universal coverage, the Government should look at ways to make Medicare more cost effective, such as:

  • Acting to reduce waste and unnecessary services in the health system
  • Moving to strengthen community-based care to reduce expensive hospitalisations
  • Reforming the “revolving-door” nature of Medicare that currently rewards activity rather than quality and outcomes
  • Strengthening the role consumers can play in supporting a sustainable and effective health care system

“There is already significant evidence that cost barriers mean that consumers are delaying getting the care they need. The COAG Reform Council’s report on Australia’s healthcare performance found that almost 9 per cent of consumers said they delayed seeing a GP because of the cost in 2011-2012.

“While proponents of the co-payment idea for GPs suggest that a ‘modest’ co-payment provides a reminder that health care is not free, consumers already know this.  On average every one of us is paying more than $1000 each year directly for health services and products, nearly 50 per cent of us are paying for private health insurance and most Australians are also making contributions to Medicare through the tax system.

“In relation to the co-payment proposal and Medibank GP trial, CHF’s greatest concern is the impact on Australia’s most vulnerable health care consumers.  These include low income families, older health care consumers and consumers with poor health and chronic conditions.  The proposed changes would reinforce the trend towards a two tiered health system, one for those who can afford to pay, and a second best system for those who can’t. This proposal does nothing to address the reality that poorer Australians suffer poorer health.

“CHF argues that there needs to be an ongoing investment in primary health care, where early identification of issues, prevention and early intervention can be the focus of treatment.  In this, GPs continue to be seen as a cornerstone of primary health care, and the team leader when it comes to managing chronic conditions which are in part driving increased health expenditure. There is a need to ensure that there are not disincentives built into the system that result in more acute care, poorer health outcomes and more expense in the long run.

“Consumers play a central role in increasing the sustainability of our health system.  They need to be engaged in an active conversation on what Australia’s health system should look like, and how we can fund it in a way that is sustainable. Informed consumers who are active in their health care can make decisions about what sorts of tests, medical procedures, medications and services will best serve their health needs and this will contribute to a more sustainable health system overall”.

“CHF calls for an Inquiry into Medicare that focuses on how it should be remodelled to ensure that in the future it continues to meet its objectives of providing healthcare to all Australians in a way that is sustainable and affordable,” Mr Metherell said.