Talk of expanding the GST to meet rising health costs is like prescribing the medicine before completing the diagnosis, says the Consumers Health Forum.
“Tax is only part of the national debate we should be having about health,” says CHF CEO Leanne Wells.
“There’s no doubt we must fix the widening funding gap in health. What’s more compelling is the case for health reform itself and the role this can play in stemming costs.
“We need to have a look at the fundamentals of our system and design new health care arrangements that deliver better value, less waste and less duplication.”
She says Australia does not need a “more of the same” approach.
“Australia should be looking at how we can make our health system more cost effective and efficient before introducing a new tax specifically to meet health cost escalation,” Wells says.
“This is not an either/or debate. Decisions about changes to Commonwealth-state roles in health need to be based on what will deliver a better working system and one that is structured to meet emerging challenges such as the growth in complex chronic disease, rather than making funding the first priority.
“Form follows function: an integrated system that delivers appropriate, quality care to all is what we want for consumers,” she says.
The next question, she says, is regarding how and at what level this should be funded.
“A cooperative federalism approach which removes the current state-federal divisions that impair our health system is a necessity.
“To shift further resources to one level of government would be likely to aggravate the cost-shifting and other perennial problems with the state-federal divide.
“At the moment we are seeing our universal health system drifting towards a two-tiered regime where uninsured patients miss out on care and even insured people struggle to meet the costs of routine surgery.
“The years of above-inflation increases in health costs will not be fixed by a broader GST without a broader discussion about what kind of system we want for the future.”
Wells says Australia needs health policy that gears the system towards early intervention, stronger, responsive primary health care and less reliance on care in hospital and specialist settings.
“Medicare has provided a strong foundation for an equitable health system. We need to heed this and make the best of current knowledge about models that work to introduce integrated services that provide team-based care by doctors, nurses and allied practitioners working in the community and reduce the need for costly hospitalisations.
“We are encouraged by the early steps taken by the Health Minister to initiate reviews of primary health care and Medicare benefits to explore ways the system can deliver better value.
“One of the shadows over current health policy is the assumption that health costs are bound to increase endlessly for the foreseeable future,” Wells says.
“History should tell us that need not be the case. As in the case of pharmaceutical development and the expiry of patents, medicine costs can come down.”