Fill the gaps in our health system through smarter, fairer investment and tackling inequalities

The Australian Council of Social Service is today launching its health policy for the upcoming Federal Election, calling on all parties to commit to make our health system fairer and more sustainable, and to tackling poverty and inequality.

The policy is being launched in a speech given by ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie to the 15th National Rural Health Conference in Hobart today.

ACOSS is calling on all parties to commit to fixing some of the worst gaps in health services, like dental care, boosting investment in community based health services, with a strong focus prevention, promotion and early intervention, redirecting health spending away from wasteful programs driving up health costs, and changing taxation on alcohol and sugary drinks to tackle overconsumption.

“Now is the time to address some of the worst gaps in our health system, like dental care, and to redirect spending from wasteful programs like the Private Health Insurance Rebate to the public system,” ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie said.

“Now is not the time to cut taxes further when we know that spending on health must rise to meet community needs and population growth. This Government has already cut personal income tax cuts twice.*

“Every day we see new treatments emerge for health conditions that save lives and improve the quality of life for people across Australia.

“Despite this progress, and the improvement to the length and quality of our lives, we still see huge inequalities in health outcomes for people experiencing poverty and disadvantage.

“The evidence is clear, people on low incomes die earlier and have poorer health outcomes that wealthier people. This difference is also directly related to the difference in health outcomes between people in the city, and those in regional and more remote parts of Australia

“According to Australian Institute of Health and Welfare research, people living outside the major cities were more likely to have long-term health conditions including arthritis, asthma, back problems, deafness, long-sightedness, diabetes, heart, stroke and vascular disease.

“Large service gaps still exist that mean that people on low and modest incomes are not getting the healthcare that they need, including in dental and mental health. The lack of public dental care not only incurs a cost in our broader health system; it impacts on people’s ability to live their lives, including to eat well, work and be engaged in their communities.

“At the same time, there are some programs like the Private Health Insurance Rebate, that are wasteful, and driving up health costs.

“Too little of our health spending is directed to the programs and initiatives that prevent disease and ill health occurring. Our lack of investment means we fail to prevent a whole range of conditions that affect people’s health and wellbeing.”

ACOSS’ health policy contains four key steps that all parties should commit to so as to make our health system fairer and more sustainable.

  • Invest $3 billion in health promotion, prevention and community based health services (including nutrition, obesity, tobacco and alcohol use, mental health, diabetes and cancer prevention and early intervention, offset by $2.8 billion in revenue raised from the introduction of a volumetric alcohol tax and tax on sugary drinks to reduce harms from overconsumption of alcohol and sugary drinks (Expenditure: $200 million per annum)
  • Make dental care affordable for all, by, as a first step, doubling the number of adults able to access public dental services (Expenditure: $300 million per annum)
  • Abolish the Private Health Insurance rebate which costs $6 billion per annum, and is not relieving pressure on public hospitals and reinvest in the public health system (Revenue neutral)
  • Abolish the Extended Medicare Safety Net, which costs $500 million a year and is driving up medical costs, and reinvest savings in the public health system (Revenue neutral)
  • “As one of the wealthiest countries in the world, it is unacceptable that we are failing to get better health outcomes for disadvantaged communities. This is driven by the fact that health services are too expensive or not available and because too many people are struggling from below the poverty line,” Dr Goldie said.

Read the full policy here.

*The federal government’s current tax cuts:
$4 billion per annum in personal income tax cuts for people on $80 000 or more; and $140 billion over six years which, when fully implemented, will give the greatest benefit to the top 20%, and cost the budget $11 billion per annum for just the top 20%