Feature Health Funding

Beginning of the end for universal healthcare in Australia?

BMJ 2014; 348 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.g4041 (Published 17 June 2014) Cite this as: BMJ 2014;348:g4041
  1. Melissa Sweet, freelance journalist, Sydney, Australia
  1. melissa{at}sweetcommunication.com.au

Extreme health cuts and a plan to shift more costs on to patients are bad news for Australians, reports Melissa Sweet

Australians are facing harsh cuts in health and social services as a result of the conservative federal government’s first budget, which has been strongly condemned by doctors and public health experts.

The budget, including $A8.5bn (£4.7bn; €5.9bn; $8bn) in health cuts over the next four years, is widely seen as undermining public health and universal healthcare and exacerbating health inequalities.

“We must be the only country with universal healthcare that seems to be trying to get rid of it,” said Liz Marles, president of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP).

Marles and other health experts say budget measures—including deeply unpopular plans for a $A7 copayment for GP consultations—reflect an ideology that the government should minimise its role while expanding that of the private health insurance business.

The cuts are expected to exacerbate many problems identified in a new report from the Council of Australian Governments’ reform council, showing that many already cannot afford health and dental costs. In 2012-13, 8.5% of people delayed or did not fill a prescription from their GP, and 5.8% delayed or did not see a GP because of cost.1

The reform council, which has been axed as part of the cuts, highlighted the challenges facing public health and prevention efforts, with 62.7% of adults being overweight or obese in 2011-12 and flagged concerns about long waits for elective surgery and potentially preventable hospital admissions.

The budget reveals the government’s intention to shift more healthcare costs to patients— who already bear a relatively high proportion of costs by Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) standards2—and to state and territory governments, which are responsible for running public hospitals.

The sweeping …

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