Federal Election 2016: Where the parties stand on the big issues - Health

Health

The Coalition went into the 2013 election "on a unity ticket" with Labor, to neutralise a campaign that Tony Abbott would begin cutting health funding once elected.

However the 2014 budget saw the ticket torn up, with hospital funding agreements the states and territories made under former Labor prime minister Kevin Rudd to be wound back from 2017, saving a massive $50 billion over eight years.

Also announced was a $7 co-payment to visit the GP, which became one of the least popular measures in Joe Hockey's 2014 budget, and was eventually scrapped.

The Turnbull Government recently made a short-term hospital funding agreement with the states, but controversial plans to freeze the Medicare rebate remain in place, and have drawn the ire of the Australian Medical Association.

Greens: The party has proposed phasing out the private health insurance rebate, which costs the federal budget $5bn a year, and reinvesting the savings in the public health system. It has promised to restore the funding model where the commonwealth and the states share the rising costs in delivering hospital services evenly, which would reverse the $57bn health funding cut in the 2014 budget.

GP rebate freeze

In this year's budget, the Government announced it would continue the indexation freeze for all Medicare schedule fees until 2020.

While not a direct cut to GPs' income, over time GPs would earn relatively less while their costs would increase.

The freeze on rebates was initially put in place for four years in 2014 after the Government’s unpopular $7 GP co-payment was dropped.

The Opposition has criticised the rebate freeze, calling it a GP tax by stealth. A spokesman said details about its position on the rebate freeze will be revealed when the Opposition releases its health policy.

Hospital funding

At the COAG meeting in April 2016, leaders signed a Heads of Agreement for public hospital funding from 1 July 2017 to 30 June 2020 ahead of consideration of longer-term arrangements.

This will see the Commonwealth providing an estimated additional $2.9 billion in funding for public hospital services, with growth in Commonwealth funding capped at 6.5 per cent a year.

Opposition health spokesman Catherine King said the $2.9 billion was well short of the $7.9 billion in additional funding the Liberals committed to in the 2013 election.

The Opposition has not outlined how much they would give the states and territories for hospital funding if elected, with a spokesperson telling the ABC details will be revealed when the Opposition releases its health policy.

Costs of scans and pathology

The Government announced it would scrap an incentive paid to pathology companies to encourage them to bulk bill patients. This was a top up payment – in addition to regular bulk-billing payments - started under the former Labor government.

Health Minister Sussan Ley said incentives are paid direct to the pathology or diagnostic provider, not the patient. "The bulk billing incentive has cost taxpayers $1.3 billion over five years, yet again has clearly failed to improve bulk billing rates beyond natural growth."

But the Opposition strongly opposes getting rid of the incentive. Health spokesman Catherine King said pathologists and doctors were against removing the incentive, saying it was a bad outcome for patients, which could result in patients becoming sicker.

A spokesman for Ms King said the Opposition hoped the changes to bulk billing incentives would be prevented from going ahead. "If not, then we'll have to consider that as part of our overall health policy," the spokesman said.

Private health insurance

The Government has instituted a major review of private health insurance.

Health Minister Sussan Ley said she wanted greater transparency around private health insurance policies, including reviewing so-called "junk" products, confusing terminology and hidden payments for consumers.

A spokesman for Ms Ley said the Government was committed to retaining the private health insurance rebate.

On the issue of private health insurance, the Opposition has criticised the Government's approval of increases in health insurance premiums.

Greens leader Richard di Natale wants the private health insurance rebate scrapped, saying new figures from the Parliamentary Budget Office show it could save the Federal Government as much as $10 billion over the next four years.

Changes to primary care

The Government's announcement of 'health-care homes' is a major change to how primary care will be delivered.

Patients with chronic conditions such as diabetes will be able to enrol with a particular GP. Doctors will receive quarterly funding to pay for the patient's medical and allied health services.

Health Minister Sussan Ley said the initiative was designed to ensure patients did not end up slipping through the cracks with multiple doctors and no continuity of care.

Opposition health spokeswoman Catherine King has criticised the lack of detail in the announcement. Ms King said that Labor began work on patient-centred medical homes when in Government, describing them as conceptually sound but difficult in practice.

Medicare

Labor has come out with $12 billion over 10 years to unwind the controversial freeze on Medicare rebates.  The changes would apply to all services provided by GPs, allied health and other medical specialists — but not pathology and diagnostic imaging and it would be rolled out in 2017

Australian Medical Association president Brian Owler said doctors were worried a continuation of the freeze would discourage doctors to bulk bill.

Treasurer Scott Morrison announced the freeze on indexation for rebates would continue until the 2019-20 financial year.

That was estimated to save the Government $925 million over the four-year forward estimates.

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