How will the Budget impact public health?


Australia statistics Board pharmacists

What was announced on Tuesday night was a ‘medicine’ budget – not a health budget, argue advocates for prevention

The Public Health Association of Australia has expressed disappointment in what it says are “glaring omissions” in this year’s budget.

The organisation says that while tobacco, alcohol and poor nutrition are the three most significant causes of ill health in Australia, these “barely received a mention” in the health budget.

“Expenditure on prevention is likely to remain close to 1.5% of the health budget while the major issues of tobacco, obesity and alcohol remain with minimal increases in funding compared to the investment to remove the freeze on the Medicare rebate,” says Michael Moore, CEO of the PHAA.

“Australia is lagging considerably compared to places like Canada and New Zealand where over 5% of the health budget is committed to prevention,” says Mr Moore.

The lifting of the freeze on Medicare rebates will cost the Government about $1 billion over four years.

Some funding that has been allocated to public health measures includes:

  • $19.2 million into improving immunisation rates;
  • $85 million for essential medicines and vaccines;
  • $10 million over two years to the Heart Foundation for walking interventions;
  • $5 million into material to better enable GP interventions for patients presenting with obesity;
  • $9.1 million telehealth initiative for psychological services in rural and regional areas;
  • $80 million for people with severe mental illnesses; and
  • $350 million to target suicide prevention and mental health of war veterans.

However the PHAA says the government has “dropped the ball” in recent years regarding a lack of funding for tobacco education, lack of implementation of a national obesity plan, and lack of introduction of a sugar levy.

The Consumers Health Forum of Australia agrees with the PHAA, stating that “we need a 21st-century response to the health hazards of today: obesity, poor diet and sedentary lifestyle”.

“The Budget includes a modest down payment in preventive health but we still lack a comprehensive obesity prevention plan,” said CHF CEO Leanne Wells.

“The hiatus in preventive health commitments has failed to recognise the huge dividends available in future improved health outcomes. And the cost is small relative to the $75 billion the Commonwealth pays out in health costs each year.”

Ms Wells also joined Mr Moore in expressing disappointment that the government has not pursued a sugar tax.

“A levy on sugary drinks has proven benefits … and would also have delivered additional funds,” said Mr Moore.

“We are disappointed the government is putting the interests of business before the health of the nation in not pursuing a tax on sugar-sweetened drinks which other countries like the UK have seen fit to introduce,” said Ms Wells.

Complementary Medicines Australia (CMA) agrees that the Budget has missed an opportunity for strengthening the focus on preventive health.

“Current health policy in Australia is still focused on the treatment of people after they become unwell,” said CMA CEO Carl Gibson.

“Australia needs to have a new approach to healthcare, one which promotes self-reliance and shifts the emphasis of the health system towards greater support of wellness and prevention of disease.”

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