Thank goodness for the Internet. If it wasn't for that we would have to rely again on what we read in the newspapers, see on TV, hear on the radio and receive through the mailbox at election time, in order to get our election information.
However, as well as being a blessing, it can be a curse as it is also able to overwhelm you with a blizzard of information. So it is for this reason that I have waded through the thicket of facts and figures that fly around in the Health area in order to distil the truths from the half-truths, and tried to lay it out in an easily digestible form.
As Health is such an omnibus area of policy, with so many different facets, and numbers that boggle the mind and pour out of every corner to overwhelm and bamboozle, I decided to therefore condense that data and, hopefully, present it to you in such a way that you might then be able to get a handle on it and use it to inform you in your deliberations before you go to the voting booth.
I thought I might also include a list of the achievements in the area of Health over the last three years by the Rudd/Gillard government because we need to make our decision based not only on promises for the future, but also results over the past term of a government.
In this way, when it comes to election day you will be as fully informed about the issue of Health as possible.
I will first outline what Labor has achieved over the last 3 years in the area of Health.
- More than 76,000 elective surgery procedures delivered in the last two years and over 125 hospitals receiving new elective surgery equipment and operating theatres.
- Injection of $1.5 billion into public hospital emergency departments – this has already seen more than 35 emergency departments receive upgrades and will expand capacity to rollout a new four hour cap on emergency department waiting times.
- Expanded the number of hospital beds, with investment to build 1,300 new sub-acute hospital beds.
- Doubling the number of GP training places to 1,200 a year by 2014 and funding training for over 1,000 new nurses each year.
- Delivering on a commitment to build 31 GP Super Clinics that locate a range of services in one convenient location – and adding an additional five communities that will benefit.
- Established the Health and Hospitals Fund to make long-term, inter-generational investments in our national health infrastructure. This fund has invested $3.2 billion in 32 projects around the country.
- Investing $2 billion into building a world class cancer care system – including building regional cancer centres to make it easier for Australians to receive the care they need close to home.
- Committed to closing the unacceptable life expectancy gap for Indigenous Australians within two generations and backed this up with an investment of $1.6 billion in an Indigenous Health National Partnership.
- Delivered more than 850,000 dental check-ups to teenagers under the Medicare Teen Dental Plan.
- Providing more attractive incentives and retention bonuses for doctors to work in rural and regional Australia.
- Increased aged care places by more than 10,000 - including 838 new transitional care places to help up to 6,285 older Australians leave hospital sooner each year.
- Closed the tax loophole that saw alcopops sales soar and implemented a $103 million binge drinking strategy. This has seen alcopops consumption fall by 30 per cent.
- Rolled out preventive health programs in schools, workplaces and communities across the country.
- Increased hospitals funding by over 50 per cent.
For a first term government that had been out of power for the previous 12 years I think that we could all agree that this list of achievements is impressive. Especially considering the number of other initiatives that were put up to the parliament but blocked in the Senate. I seem to remember a Denticare Universal Dental Care program was proposed as well. I don't think the legislation came before parliament but that was probably because, by the time it had been mooted, it was already obvious to the Rudd government that they were dealing with a hostile Senate. So I wouldn't be surprised if we saw it reappear in a re-elected Gillard government, especially as The Greens have proposed it as one of their Health policies.
For those who are familiar with what I have written in the past I hope that you would say that I have tried to be 'Fair and Balanced' when it comes to assessing the Coalition and their policies on their merits. Thus it is again in this same spirit that I am going to outline their Health policy proposals.
- $140 million to increase after hours Medicare rebates for GPs.
- $25 million for the After Hours Practice Incentive Payment for GPs.
- $350 million to increase rebates for longer consultations with health care professionals.
- $115 million to boost Medicare rebates for practice nurses
- $200 million for GP infrastructure Grants.
In August, the Coalition announced a health funding injection of $833 million.
The Coalition says it would retain $437 million in Medicare funding that is allotted to practice nurses, which would be scrapped by the Labor Government.
- $1.5 billion mental health plan
- Establish 20 Early Psychosis Intervention Centres
- Provide 800 beds for acute and sub-acute care
- Fund an additional 60 Headspace sites
- $395 million over four years for aged care
In June, the Coalition announced $1.5 billion allocated to extend frontline services to Mental Health. The funding will be directed to 800 new acute and sub acute mental health beds, 20 Early Psychosis Prevention and Intervention Centres and 60 further 'Headspace' youth mental health centres.
The Coalition's $395 million over four years for aged care would include $335 million for an aged care bed incentive program and convalescent care to assist up to 20,000 elderly people waiting in hospital to return home.
Now, looking at the above details I think a couple of salient points need to be made. Firstly, we have to realise that a large proportion of the funding to pay for these initiatives has been found by the Coalition by redirecting funding away from other areas of the Health Budget.
The E-Health initiative of the Labor government will be shelved; funding to continue the rollout of the remaining GP Super Clinics will be canned; and funding for Doctor and Nurse Training places would be redirected.
Essentially, therefore, we have a 'Robbing Peter to Pay Paul' Health strategy. Money from one area of Health has been taken away to fund another area that the Coalition has identified as being more worthy. They have had to do this because there is no Surplus from which to draw additional funds to pay for their policies.
As I have just mentioned, The Greens have a suite of Health policies too (well, more like a table and chair of policies than a whole suite). So, in order to be fair to those who might be reading this that want to vote Greens, I have included their proposals.
- Develop a National Health Care Strategy.
- Abolish private health insurance rebate, redirect funds to the public health.
- Increase incentives for GPs and medical specialists to bulk bill.
- Universal access to publicly funded primary dental care.
- Introduce a tax on junk food and alcohol
I believe that, if the Greens do end up holding the balance of power in the Senate with the ALP in government, then we might be seeing some of this wish list become a reality for the Australian people in the next term of parliament.
The Labor Party
- 1,300 new sub-acute hospital beds.
- Emergency department waiting times capped at four hours.
- Training for 5,500 more GPs, double the GPs trained every year
- National after-hours GP service – with a 24-hour advice hotline
- Support for 2,500 additional aged care beds
- $277 million for mental health to help identify and prevent suicide.
- $134 million Rural Health Workforce strategy: to support 2,400 rural doctors.
Labor has reached a deal with most state governments on implementing a National Health and Hospitals Network to provide $5.3 billion in additional funding. Western Australia is the only state holding out from the deal.
Key initiatives outlined by Labor include 1000 new nursing training places every year and an additional 1300 GPs qualified or training by 2013.
The Party also announced an additional 23 new GP super-clinics, on top of the 36 clinics already stated in the Health overhaul. The clinics would be situated mainly in rural and regional areas.
A 24-hour hotline would provide GP advice and arrange follow up community visits.
Labor is promising city doctors who move to rural and regional areas up to $120 000 in relocation payments to boost the rural health workforce.
Labor’s Mental Health package will target four key areas:
- frontline services for those most at risk;
- direct prevention and crisis intervention;
- services targeted to men and looking after kids, both those at risk and generally building their resilience.
Labor says an extra 20,000 young people per year will get mental health assistance with its $277 million support for communities, schools, health services and carers, to do more to identify and prevent suicide.
Now, I think it's a very valid point that what would be the best Mental Health policy of all would be the one that you would get when you combined the Coalition and Labor policies together. I also think that, as it is constrained by the fiscal discipline theme in this campaign, the ALP, should it be re-elected, will take on board the Coalition's propositions in this area and incorporate them into its own response in the future when there is more money in the kitty. I mean you would be a foolish and irresponsible health policy formulator if you didn't take on board what, to my eyes, is a sound proposal from the Opposition. Especially when it came to the area of Mental Health.
So, to sum up, I find myself thinking that the Coalition, as with so much of this campaign's policy announcements, have come up with some sound proposals. The only trouble is, they want to fund them by taking away programs that are worth the money that is being spent on them, whilst at one and the same time refusing to touch Health expenditure in areas that are sacred cows to the Coalition. For example, the Private Health Insurance Rebate, which is effectively a subsidy to the industry, a Private Industry, from the taxpayers' purse. The Libertarian in me thinks that if an industry is unable to thrive and prosper on its own steam, then maybe it shouldn't exist at all. I mean, looking at it from a different perspective, surely the Private Health Industry has a product that is appealing enough to attract paying customers? Surely Private Health Insurance premiums could be structured in such a way as to also be attractive to people who want to benefit from Private Hospitals and the other attractions that the Private Health Industry can provide over the Public Health system? Yes, there needs to be a small stipend to the Private Health Industry to reflect the fact that a large proportion of the taxpaying population uses their services, but not as much as they get from the public purse now.
Also, the Dental Health scheme introduced by Tony Abbott when he was Health Minister should be scrapped, as Labor wants to do, because it has been rorted.
Labor, I think we can also agree, needs to do more in the area of Mental Health and Dental Health. And hopefully they will in years to come.
Well, what do you think? What do you think of the competing policies? Also, what do you think hasn't been included by any of the parties that you would have liked to have seen them offer?
Health. It affects us all.