‘We can’t afford not to’ spend on public health

Shadow Health Minister Catherine King has said that Labor will continue to fight proposed increases to PBS co-payments.

Ms King opened the joint PHAA 44th Annual Conference and 20th Chronic Diseases Network Conference, which has a theme of, “Protection, Prevention, Promotion, Healthy Futures: Chronic Conditions and Public Health”.

“The first job of any Opposition is to hold the Government to account,” Ms King said.

“We will keep highlighting Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull’s cuts to public health, and to our health system in general:

  • the freeze on Medicare rebates;
  • the cuts to bulk billing incentives for pathology and diagnostic imaging;
  • the increases to PBS co-payments, even for concession payments;
  • the cuts to public hospitals.”

The proposed increase of patient copayments for PBS-subsidised scripts, by 80c for concessional patients and $5 for general patients, was introduced in the 2014-5 Budget, but not passed.

“What we’ve seen in recent years at the Commonwealth level is a cycle of boom and bust in public health:

  • a 10 year roadmap for action on obesity, tobacco and alcohol – now ignored;
  • a National Preventive Health Agency – now abolished;
  • an investment of almost $1 billion in preventive health – now gutted;
  • a focus on Closing the Gap in Indigenous health, and addressing health inequalities for other Australians – now virtually on the backburner,” said Ms King.

“Malcolm Turnbull and the Coalition Government would have Australians believe that we can’t afford to spend money on public health. My view – Labor’s view – is that we can’t afford not to.”

Ms King highlighted the latest AIHW report on Australia’s Health and said she was “struck by how many reports like it I have read, and how little has changed.

“In a wealthy, egalitarian country, we should be shocked into action that Indigenous men and women die around 10 years earlier than non-Indigenous Australians.

“We should be shocked into action that people in the lowest socioeconomic areas are more than twice as likely to have diabetes and heart disease than people in the highest socioeconomic areas.

“Some think of health inequality as affecting only some groups, like Indigenous Australians or the poor. But we should also be shocked that half of all Australians have a chronic disease. That one in four children are overweight or obese. That one in three people delay or avoid going to a dentist because of cost.”

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