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Federal Election 2019: A primer on healthcare policy


Thao-Mi Bui

By

May 7th, 2019


Labor Healthcare is a key pillar of the Australian Labour Party’s (ALP) election campaign. In particular, there is a focus on the quality of public hospitals, cancer services and preventive health measures. Labor’s healthcare policy pivots around the fundamental election promise of delivery of the Better Hospitals Fund[1] over 2019-2025[2]. Worth $2.8 billion,[3] the package’s […]


Labor

Healthcare is a key pillar of the Australian Labour Party’s (ALP) election campaign. In particular, there is a focus on the quality of public hospitals, cancer services and preventive health measures.

Labor’s healthcare policy pivots around the fundamental election promise of delivery of the Better Hospitals Fund[1] over 2019-2025[2]. Worth $2.8 billion,[3] the package’s core aim is to improve hospitals by restoring commonwealth-state public hospital funding to 50:50.[4] Specifically, Labor announced that it would commit $250 million to emergency departments and $250 million to increase the number of health professionals working to try and reduce waiting times.[5]

Care for cancer is another integral Labor healthcare policy, with Labor pledging $2.3 billion over four years to improve Medicare coverage of cancer services.[6],[7] $200 million will go towards free blood tests for cancer patients and older Australians with promises to guarantee the three million free pathology tests a year needed by cancer patients and 20 million used by the elderly.[8] $8.6 million has also been promised to work with the Cancer Council Australia to relaunch a new sun protection campaign.[9]

The other pillar of Labor’s healthcare policy is $115.6 million spent on preventative initiatives, including $39 million over three years to action a national anti-obesity strategy and anti-smoking pushes.[10]

In addition to increased funding, Labor also proposes the establishment of an Australian Health Care Commission to assess how to ‘get better investment and integration in primary health care’.[11] Catherine King, the ALP’s Shadow Minister for Health and Medicare, has also promised to enter into talks with the Australian Medical Association about what is needed to reform primary healthcare.[12]

The Coalition

Whilst Labor has been criticised for not sufficiently analysing the potential cost of their many promised healthcare policies,[13] the Coalition’s promised spending on healthcare is more sparse.

The Coalition’s core healthcare commitment is to boost youth and Indigenous mental health services by $42.1 million. This will include $12.5 million to enhance the effectiveness of mental health services for Indigenous people, $22.5 million for the youth mental health and suicide prevention strategy, and the remaining $10 million targeted at digital tools for youth mental health issues such as anxiety, depression and relationship difficulties. [14] An additional $19.6 million will also be injected into the Indigenous Advancement Strategy in an effort to prevent indigenous youth suicide.[15]

The Coalition has announced that it intends to expand the current trials on ‘telehealth’ by allowing older patients to have consultations with their GP by phone, email or text.[16]

Greens

The core features of the Green’s stance on healthcare is a focus on preventive healthcare, tackling chronic physical and mental health illnesses, and making health care universal.

To address chronic illnesses, the Greens have committed to $3.5 billion. This package has a number of aims.

Firstly, it will aid in reorganising the current GP payment system, with $1000 payments made available to GP practices to compensate doctors for delivering high quality chronic disease care.[17] The head of the Greens, Richard Di Natale, has reasoned that this is aimed at changing the incentives for healthcare professionals from simply rewarding them for seeing patients to instead rewarding them for achieving good health outcomes.[18]

One of the key tenets often touted that underpins the Greens’ health policy is the notion that healthcare should be accessible.[19] To this end, the package also includes access for patients who are in the scheme to $750 of allied health professionals’ care through Primary Health Networks.

Other key intiatives this package will fund include the development of national standards and models to treat chronic disease, improvement of data collection to better monitor and assess patient outcomes.[20]

Additionally, to ‘put prevention at the heart of health’,[21] the party has pledged the establishment of an independent preventive health commission.[22]

The Greens have also long vouched for phasing out the private health insurance rebate, which costs the government $5 billion a year, and reinvesting the funds into the public hospitals.[23] [24]


[1] Labor. (2019). Better Hospitals Fund. Retrieved from https://www.alp.org.au/policies/better-hospitals-fund/

[2] King, C. (2018). Building better hospitals – Record funding for beds, doctors and nurses. Retrieved from https://www.catherineking.com.au/2018/05/10/building-better-hospitals-record-funding-for-beds-doctors-and-nurses/

[3] Hasham, N. (2019, April 14). Labor promises to end hospital funding wars with $2.8 billion package. Retrieved from https://www.smh.com.au/federal-election-2019/labor-promises-to-end-hospital-funding-wars-with-2-8-billion-package-20190413-p51dvj.html

[4] Hendrie, D. (2019, May 2). Preventive care and mental health in the election spotlight. Retrieved from https://www1.racgp.org.au/newsgp/professional/preventive-care-and-mental-health-in-the-election

[5] Murphy, K. (2019, May 5). Bill Shorten to unveil 500m hospital funding boost in campaign launch. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2019/may/05/bill-shorten-to-unveil-500m-hospital-funding-boost-in-campaign-launch

[6] Hendrie, D. (2019, May 2). Preventive care and mental health in the election spotlight. Retrieved from https://www1.racgp.org.au/newsgp/professional/preventive-care-and-mental-health-in-the-election

[7] Banger, M. (2019, May 2). Election offers a ‘stark choice’ on health. Retrieved from https://www.dailyliberal.com.au/story/6101511/election-offers-a-stark-choice-on-health/?cs=9397

[8] Benson, S. (2019, April 16). Free blood tests: Labor raises health pressure. Retrieved from https://www.theaustralian.com.au/nation/politics/free-blood-tests-labor-raises-health-pressure/news-story/40db86808e5d147a69645b423bb86a94

[9] SBS News. (2019, April 13). Mental health and skin cancer on agenda 3 of election campaign. Retrieved from https://www.sbs.com.au/news/mental-health-and-skin-cancer-on-agenda-on-day-3-of-election-campaign

[10] Banger, M. (2019, May 2). Election offers a ‘stark choice’ on health. Retrieved from https://www.dailyliberal.com.au/story/6101511/election-offers-a-stark-choice-on-health/?cs=9397

[11] Hendrie, D. (2019, May 2). Preventive care and mental health in the election spotlight. Retrieved from https://www1.racgp.org.au/newsgp/professional/preventive-care-and-mental-health-in-the-election

[12] Ibid.

[13] Benson, S. (2019, April 16). Free blood tests: Labor raises health pressure. Retrieved from https://www.theaustralian.com.au/nation/politics/free-blood-tests-labor-raises-health-pressure/news-story/40db86808e5d147a69645b423bb86a94

[14] SBS News. (2019, April 13). Mental health and skin cancer on agenda 3 of election campaign. Retrieved from https://www.sbs.com.au/news/mental-health-and-skin-cancer-on-agenda-on-day-3-of-election-campaign

[15] Ibid.

[16] Hendrie, D. (2019, May 2). Preventive care and mental health in the election spotlight. Retrieved from https://www1.racgp.org.au/newsgp/professional/preventive-care-and-mental-health-in-the-election

[17] Ibid

[18] ABC News. Healthcare piecemeal ad-hoc, says Richard di Natale. Retrieved from https://www.abc.net.au/radio/melbourne/programs/am/healthcare-debate-piecemeal,-ad-hoc,-says-richard-di-natale/11018504

[19] The Greens. (2019). Health. Retrieved from https://greens.org.au/policies/health

[20] Hendrie, D. (2019, May 2). Preventive care and mental health in the election spotlight. Retrieved from https://www1.racgp.org.au/newsgp/professional/preventive-care-and-mental-health-in-the-election

[21] Hendrie, D. (2019, May 2). Preventive care and mental health in the election spotlight. Retrieved from https://www1.racgp.org.au/newsgp/professional/preventive-care-and-mental-health-in-the-election

[22] Ibid

[23] The Greens. (2016). Funding our hospitals. Investing in our health. Retrieved from https://greens.org.au/sites/default/files/2018-06/20160523_Mental%20Health_4.pdf

[24] ABC News. Healthcare piecemeal ad-hoc, says Richard di Natale. Retrieved from https://www.abc.net.au/radio/melbourne/programs/am/healthcare-debate-piecemeal,-ad-hoc,-says-richard-di-natale/11018504

The views expressed within this article are those of the author and do not represent the views of the ESSA Committee or the Society's sponsors. Use of any content from this article should clearly attribute the work to the author and not to ESSA or its sponsors.

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