Today the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, and the Leader of the Opposition, Tony Abbott, participated in a debate on health and hospital policy at the National Press Club.
The Prime Minister identified the reasons the Government believes changes to Australia’s health system are needed:
- There are not enough doctors and nurses.
- Waiting lists are too long.
- There is too much bureaucracy in the health system.
- There are not enough hospital beds.
Mr Rudd detailed the Government’s achievements in health so far, explained the reforms the Government is proposing for the Commonwealth to take on 60 per cent of funding responsibility for public hospitals (compared to the 40 per cent it currently has). The Prime Minister said this would be achieved by investing one third of GST revenue directly in health and hospitals, rather than paying it through large block funding grants to the states and territories. The policy, A National Health and Hospitals Network for Australia’s Future, is outlined in greater detail here.
Mr Abbott’s opening statement focused on the Government’s difficulties with service delivery. Mr Abbott said of the proposed Health and Hospital plan that it would take money away from the states, would not provide any additional funding for health, and would not solve the ‘blame game’ as it would not identify who would hold ultimate authority. Mr Abbott expressed that he believes a strong hospital system must be backed by a strong private health system and suggested that significant hospitals should be managed by local boards. He said that the health care system needs to be more responsive and needs more beds rather than more bureaucrats and form-filling.
Journalists questioned the two leaders on a broad range of health policy issues, including:
- The question of authority and who should be in charge of the health care system.
- A nationally funded dental scheme.
- Stimulus spending in health care as opposed to in other areas such as education.
- The private health insurance rebate.
- Patient out-of-pocket costs.
Key points made throughout the debate included:
- The Government has no plans for further change in relation to the Private Health Insurance Rebate.
- The Government’s proposals mean the Commonwealth will take on 100 per cent of responsibility for primary care.
- If the States and Territories do not accept the Government’s proposals for a 60:40 funding split, then the Government will put the matter to the Australian people via a referendum.
- The Coalition will provide its costed health care policy prior to the next election.
There will be further debates between the two leaders prior to the next Federal election.