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public health & Treasury's hand « Previous | |Next »
April 15, 2005

The health 'crisis' is usually represented as being one of rapidly rising spending on health care generally, and not just the public part of health care currently paid for by taxpayers. Health costs are escalating. Something has to be done.


Rising health care spending is due to both medical price inflation (eg., specialists such as radiologists and obstetricians) and the increase in the range of things that medicine can do with better technology.

The news today is that the Howard Government lifting the Medicare threshold for out-of-pocket medical expenses incurred out of the hospital. Families, pensioners and health card holders will now have to spend $500, up from $300, before the government picks up 80 per cent of the tab.For others the threshold will be lifted to at least $1,000, up from $700. The reason is a budget blowout.

That is the hand of Treasury. And the ALP follows the Treasury line by saying it is unsustainable and the Howard Government always knew it to be so.

What is being ignored is the failure by Tony Abbott to address the rising costs due to the medical price inflation caused by specialists increasing their fees. These price increases need to be capped and the rorts stopped. As there is no health regulator for the private health industry the market rules. What should be addressed is the lack of courage in tackling the AMA union.

The AMA is silent on this rorting. Sure it condemns the increases in the safety net threshold in the name of good medicine. But it protects its own by saying nothing at all about obstetricians changing their billing practices so that inhospital maternity costs not covered by Medicare are restructured as outpatient consultation fees.

And the senior journalists in the corporate media? How are they holding the Howard Government accountable? Louise Dodson in The Sydney Morning Herald merely reports the issue. Michelle Grattin in The Age concentrates on the broken promises and says nothing about tackling the specialists.

The Australian's editorial touches the issue then shies away to follow the Treasury line:

"The Government's decision can be criticised by doctors who assume the health of their bank balances is an excellent indicator of national wellbeing. And arguments it will hurt people who make most use of the health system are incontestable. But as it stands, the costs of the safety net cannot be contained, and this may not be the last change we see in the life of the Government. Mr Howard mistook throwing money at problems for a health policy in the last election campaign. All taxpayers, not just people who benefit from the safety net, are now paying the price of his profligacy."

Few are willing to take on the specialists. Not even the health economists from Australia Institute (Richard Deniss) or the Monash University Centre for Health Economics (Jeff Richardson). Only the Doctors Reform Society is willing to call a rort a rort.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 12:56 PM | | Comments (0)