Despite well-formulated submissions to the Senate’s Community Affairs References Committee and a lengthy door-stop press conference at Parliament House by its president, A/Prof Brian Owler the AMA is yet to detail how it will feels the Abbott government should amend the proposed changes to out-of-pocket costs for healthcare.
One thing is clear: while the peak body remains committed to the principle of co-payments, it does not support the Budget’s across-the-board $7.00 per GP visit co-payment, calling it “poorly designed… bad health policy because of potential perverse outcomes which create even greater demand for more expensive health services”.
In its Senate submission the AMA argued that, “The Government is justifying the health budget measures on the basis that Australia’s health spending is unsustainable. It is not.“
Health is 16.13% of the total 2014-15 Commonwealth Budget, down from 18.09% in 2006-07. Health was 8.9% of Australia’s GDP in 2010, stable when compared with 8.2% in 2001, and lower than the OECD average of 9.3%.”
It added, “Australia can afford the health system it currently has…. The Government’s proposed model of co-payments, coupled with across the board rebate reductions, poor safety nets for the vulnerable and those with chronic disease, and significant reductions to public hospital funding are too harsh, and will have as yet unexplored consequences for the health of the nation and the downstream impacts on health care costs.
“At this point in time, there is no financial reason to make such dramatic and experimental changes to the structure of health care financing in Australia.”
The messages were repeated in Dr Owler’s press conference, following his appearance before the Senate committee.
While stressing the inequitable nature of the proposed co-payment, the president would not talk specifics about the AMA’s alternative model. Instead, he confirmed discussions with political leaders – “The Prime Minister asked us to work with the Minister and his Department to come up with an alternative model and to come back to them with that and that's exactly what we've been doing” – including the crossbenchers who may control the future of various Budget negotiations.
“We're very much focused on the issues surrounding the GP, pathology, and diagnostic imaging co-payments,” he added, “because that's a very substantial and new change and I think that's where our efforts are focused.”
On what some have described as the health budget’s ‘too clever by far’ item, the Medical Research Future Fund, he noted that “only a fraction” of its proposed funding would come from the GP co-payment proposal, and, “while we think the Medical Research Future Fund is a very important thing for the future of Australian research and the health of Australians going forward, we're not going to advocate to take the money out of primary healthcare to put it into a tertiary level research fund.”
At least there was no mention of the Paid Parental Leave scheme.