Big healthcare reforms needed

The winner of next month’s federal election must have the courage to lead reforms to the health system to keep it effective, efficient and affordable, says Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association (AHHA) CEO Alison Verhoeven.

“Simply throwing new money at old problems will be doing current and future generations of Australians a disservice,” she said. “The systems that have served us well in the past are struggling to cope with today’s demands of an ageing population, higher levels of chronic disease, and rapidly rising costs – including out-of-pocket costs – in the face of constrained budgets.

“Governments will have to be smarter, more strategic, and working together in order to deliver a new, affordable, fit-for-purpose health system.

Ms Verhoeven says she  believes strategic investment of public funds is required, rather than “pot shots of cash and band aid solutions”.  She says strategy, not stimulus, is needed to progressively reorientate our healthcare system to focus on patient outcomes and value rather than volume and vested interests.

“This will not be an easy task,” she said. “One recalls the fierce opposition from powerful vested interests to the establishment of Medicare, which underpins our public healthcare and hospital sectors, and is the foundation for universal access to quality healthcare in Australia.

“Reforming healthcare cannot be accomplished overnight, but some areas need serious attention right now.”

Ms Verhoeven supports a number of policies and pledges from across the political spectrum, including the $2.3 billion investment promised by Labor to reduce out-of-pocket costs and waiting times specifically for people with cancer.

“A diagnosis of cancer should not mean having to meet unexpected medical bills of many thousands of dollars a year or long waiting periods for care,” she said. “We also applaud Labor’s commitment to reducing tobacco use: prevention must be part of every party’s health platform.

“Similarly, we welcome the Coalition’s commitment to a national strategy to tackle excessive out-of-pocket costs charged by medical specialists. Transparency of information about costs will help reduce ‘bill shock’, although more needs to be done to reduce those out-of-pocket costs.

“We also support the Australian Greens’ commitment to affordable dental care, although this must be focused on outcomes and achieving value, with an initial boost for adult public dental health funding.”

Ms Verhoeven suggests prevention strategies, including water fluoridation in all communities and a tax on sugar sweetened beverages, are also required.

“In the medium to longer term, however, large structural reforms are needed across the whole system to deliver better healthcare access and affordability,” she said. “And AHHA, in consultation with Australia’s best health leaders, has mapped out how to transform our healthcare system into a fit-for-purpose 21st century system.

“Regardless of who forms government, all political parties should keep in mind a commitment to an effective, contemporary healthcare system is a commitment to a healthy Australia.”

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