Mark it on your calendar, pop a reminder in your phone and scrawl it in your diary – July 2nd is the date that has been set for a double dissolution election.
But fear not, The Nutrition Press is here to help! We’ve done all the hard work for you and sussed out what policies are being put forward on a topic that we’re all passionate about – healthcare.
Just before we dive in, here’s a quick recap of how our federal voting system works; a quick way to find out who your local member currently is (for the House of Reps) and which other candidates are throwing their hat in the ring this election; and finally – a cool quiz that’s great for 10 minutes of procrastination and/or to somewhat arbitrarily decide who wins your vote. Oh, and if all that democracy has made you hungry – here’s where you can suss out which polling booth has the most delicious snag or baked good.
Okay. Let’s start with taking a look at where we’re at currently with healthcare policy in Australia.
Back in 2014 a few things of note occurred with healthcare funding. A few hospital funding agreements made by the states and territories were scrapped, meaning that hospital funding is going to be wound back from 2017 and $50 billion will be saved over the subsequent 8 years. The $7 GP co-payment was also announced, only to be later dropped. In April this year however, The Liberal-National Coalition government made an agreement with the states for them to receive $2.9 billion total in hospital funding to 2020.
Overall, healthcare spending has been rapidly rising. The most recently available figures are those from 2013-14, where $154.6 billion was spent – compare this to $82 billion spent in 2001 (adjusted for inflation, naturally). This rise is attributed mostly to Australia’s growing and ageing population, as well as the development of new medical technology and community expectations regarding the new technologies availability.
So, with that out of the way – let’s check out what the major parties are putting on the table to win your vote!
After the Medicare GP co-payment of $7 was announced in the 2014 budget, and was later scrapped, the Coalition replaced it with a four year indexation freeze on Medicare rebates. What this means is that the amount paid to doctors from Medicare will not be increasing with inflation. You know when you go to your GP and whip our your Medicare card and Medicare usually shouts around half your fee, and then you’re left with a ‘gap’ that you then pay with your own money? The amount that Medicare shouts will be frozen, so the amount that you pay with your own money will increase due to inflation and the subsequent rising costs that GP practices have to cover as part of their fees (receptionists, medical equipment, etc.). The Coalition announced in the 2016 budget that this policy will be extended until 2020, saving an extra $925 million. You can read here what the RACGP and the Australian Medical Association think about the move.
In the theme of nutrition (oooh yes!), $5.3 million has been out aside to continue the Health Star Rating system until 2018-19. These dollars will go towards building awareness and creating a strong awareness of the system on social media.
The cat was let out of the bag with the Child and Adult Public Dental Scheme before the budget earlier in the year. The details are still a little foggy, however what we do know is that it will cost $1.7 billion and state governments will also be most likely asked to foot some of the bill. This new scheme will be replacing/funded by axing of the Child Dental Benefits Scheme.
Extra investments in preventative medicine are sparse, with a gradual increase of the tobacco tax of 12.5% each year until 2020 the only one of note. It should also be noted that the ALP also supports this increase.
You can read more about what health experts thought of the 2016 budget here.
Australian Labor Party
The Australian Labor Party (ALP) has yet to stipulate how much cash they will throw at public hospitals should they be elected, but Medicare and investing in mental health are major features of the ALP’s campaign in regards to healthcare.
One of their key election policies is to pass laws within 100 days of being elected that will prevent Medicare from being privatised (The plot thickens! Here’s an update of something that happened while we were getting this article ready to publish). What exactly may potentially be privatised with Medicare is its payment system, with The Coalition suggesting to outsource the payment system to a company that have the dollars to create a payment system that will be at home in the 21st century (think instant online transactions and apps). The ALP, however, are not so keen on Medicare being privatised, as it will most likely be outsourced to a company overseas.
There’s bad news if you’re partial to a bit of homeopathy, herbalism or any other natural therapy, as the ALP has announced that it will turf tax-payed funded private health insurance rebates – saving $180 million over four years.
Another key healthcare policy is to implement a number of the Mental Health Commission’s recommendations, although which ones in particular have not been specified. However, the ALP say the recommendations they will implement will focus on the issues of suicide in regional, rural and remote areas, aiming to reduce suicide by 50% over the next 10 years by implementing a National Suicide Prevention Framework. An Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Mental Health Plan has also been proposed as part of these plans.
On the health policy topic du jour, the ALP are promising to scrap the indexation freeze on Medicare rebates from January 2017, costing an extra $2.4 billion by 2019-20.
What is this I see, a proposed policy specifially aimed at combating obesity? Indeed – The Greens have proposed a 20% tax on sugar sweetened beverages. The basis for this policy proposal is similar taxes that have been implemented in the UK and France. The Nutrition Press unpacked the idea of a sugar tax earlier in the year , which you can have a gander at here.
The Greens are also promising to phase out the Private Health Insurance rebate by 10% on each tier each year, meaning no rebate for private health policy holders by 2019. The Greens claim that this would save the government an extra $10 billion over the next 4 years – money the Greens say they would reinvest back into the public health system. So, what is this private health insurance rebate, anyway? Pretty much what it sounds like – a rebate shouted by the government which covers a percentage of the premium of the insurance policy. The percentage of the premium which the government pays for is determined by income and whether the policy covers the individual or their family as well. Currently, those on lower incomes have a higher percentage of their premium covered than those on higher incomes.
Another policy for The Greens heading into the 2016 election is to spread hospital costs evenly between federal and state governments, promising the commonwealth will foot 50% of the hospital bill. In 2011-12, 53% of our public hospital bill was funded by state and territory governments and the commonwealth paid for 36%.
Hey, but let’s not forget the indexation freeze on Medicare rebates – The Greens have opposed the freeze from its inception.
So, what now?
Go forth to a polling place on July 2nd and exercise your democratic right! Please note that the parties listed here are not a fully compressive representation of the candidates and parties seeking election in 2016. The policies discussed here are not fully comprehensive either – just a taste.
Image by AAP Image/Dave Hunt©