Community Health Reform

Enough Talking – Time for Action on Long-Term Health Policy Vision

On Wednesday, AMA President, Dr Tony Bartone, addressed the National Press Club in Canberra calling for action on long-term health policy.

Dr Bartone begun his address by talking of his own personal story and experience with the health system – his mother’s patient journey.

He spoke of being in Brisbane in November 2018 to launch the AMA Indigenous Health Report Card when, that same night, his elderly frail mother fell at home and was admitted to hospital.

“She has not been able to return home since that night. She was eventually admitted to an aged care facility”, Dr Bartone said.

“It gave me, as AMA President and a community GP, an unwelcome front row seat to the care journey of a loved one in our health system. Unfortunately, my mother’s story is not uncommon. It is the same story for many patients in our health system.”

Dr Bartone discussed the significant changes to the health system in 2018, including the 2019 election which he mentioned that “two months on from the election, the need for significant health reforms remains – and it must still be the Government’s highest priority”.

The speech slammed the current health system for its under-funding, under-resourcing, poor access, waste, inequality, and inefficiencies. “From maternity services to primary care, prevention to public hospitals, private health insurance to the Medicare Benefits Schedule, mental health care to indigenous health to aged care” he didn’t hold back on his criticisms.

Dr Bartone said that, for Health Minister Hunt, the time for talk was over. It was now time for action.

Included in his critique of the health system, Dr Bartone called on the Federal Government to ensure the private health sector remains efficient, robust, and productive.

The private health insurance sector has experienced 15 successive quarters of decreasing coverage despite a comprehensive Government review and the transition to the new Gold, Silver, Bronze and Basic policy structure.

However, Dr Bartone said he believes the situation is even worse, citing the “increases in premiums averaging 3 to 5 per cent a year, when wages growth is firmly stuck at around 2 per cent”.

“Sooner or later, the number of people with private health insurance will fall further – and dramatically. This would mean the option of private hospital access would be unaffordable for many Australians,” Dr Bartone said.

“This reform needs to start now – we can’t wait for another dozen quarters of decline. The death spiral is already underway.”

Dr Bartone rounded out his address with a clear call for economic rationalism, highlighting that health care in Australia employs 14 per cent of the nation’s total workforce.

“Driving economic activity through our largest workforce sector would also add extra capacity in general practice, hospitals and other front-line areas.”

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