Contenders debate health policy at press club

AMA policy positions have been applauded by both major political parties, during a live broadcast of the Federal Election campaign’s health debate at the National Press Club of Australia.

Health Minister Greg Hunt and Shadow Health Minister Catherine King each delivered their pitches and were in turn grilled by political journalists during the hour-long telecast from Canberra.

Mid-way through the campaign, health policy maintains a high priority of the election as the parties fight for the all-important health vote.

AMA President Dr Tony Bartone described the debate as informative and positive, with sound messages from each side – but with some glaring omissions on the policy front.

“It was a good strong debate, with lots of commitments to long-held AMA policy, and commitments to strongly resource these policies,” Dr Bartone said.

“There was important attention to recognised medicines and to supporting general practice.

“And each party delivered anti-vaping messages, which is very important.

“However, there was no mention of aged care and still no great detail around mental health. We need them to connect the dots.

“The AMA will compare and contrast these policies and publicly rate them accordingly before election day.

“But we need to see the major parties announcing the missing pieces from their healthcare vision over the next two-and-a-half weeks.

“As the population ages and more people are living longer with multiple complex and chronic conditions, it is vital that Australia has a robust, connected, and holistic strategy to ensure improved health outcomes for patients throughout life.

“The Australian health system is one of the best in the world, if not the best. But it will take strong leadership, hard work, good policy with long-term strategic vision, and significant well-targeted funding to keep it working efficiently to meet growing community demand.

“The health system has many parts, and they are all linked. Governments cannot concentrate on a few, and neglect the others. Otherwise, patients will be the ultimate losers. Whole patient care cannot be done in silos, in parts, or in isolation.”

Under questioning from the reporters in the room, Mr Hunt and Ms King both described the uptake of vaping by teenagers in the United States as a “public health disaster” and said they would not support policies that could see Australia go down the same path.

This view is supported by the AMA.

Other health issues canvassed included out-of-pocket medical expenses, public hospital funding, cancer care, the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, and primary care, with both sides detailing their spending commitments and obviously claiming superior healthcare visions for the nation.

On public hospitals, Ms King said Labor would invest an extra $2.8 billion and pointed to the AMA’s own advocacy on the issue.

“Just two weeks ago the Australian Medical Association declared our hospitals are chronically under-funded, our doctors and nurses are at breaking point, and patients are waiting longer than ever before for emergency treatment and… surgery,” she said.

“The AMA’s Public Hospital Report Card was a damning indictment of the six years of cuts and chaos from the Liberals.”

Ms King repeated Labor’s proposal to spend $2.3 billion over four years to improve Medicare coverage of cancer services.

“This election offers a stark choice, and nowhere is that choice more stark than when it comes to health policy,” she said.

“It’s a choice between a Labor Party with an ambitious health agenda, and a Liberal Party with no agenda at all.”

Mr Hunt said Labor had not “done the work” on its cancer plan and had offered Australians few details and incorrect costings on the plan.

Ms King rejected that statement.

But the Minister said he had a long-term vision for the nation’s health, and repeated his four-pillar plan of primary health, hospitals, mental health and medical research

On Medicare and bulk-billing rates, Mr Hunt said the Coalition Government had a good record of increasing funding and rates since it has been in office.

“Looking forward … what we are doing across all of the conditions in relation to diagnostic imaging, an investment of $600 million for new MRIs across the country,” he said, while praising the work of the AMA in primary care initiatives.

“But perhaps most importantly, working the AMA and College of GPs transforming what we are doing in primary health care by giving older patients the capacity to have their doctor in the home,” Mr Hunt said.

“Over the telephone, over teleconference, over the way they prescribe, through email and text – transforming access.”