Leaders to focus on solving rising health care costs

Australians are delaying seeing a doctor or filling a script due to the rising costs of health care, according to a new report. 

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese will meet state and territory leaders to discuss a plan to overhaul Medicare as costs for governments and citizens continue to increase.

Mr Albanese is expected to face calls from premiers and chief ministers for the federal government to increase its financial contribution to health services when he informally meets them on Thursday night and national cabinet convenes in Canberra on Friday.

NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet said it was important for all levels of government to start with the best policies, rather than a specific dollar amount.

“Whether it’s pharmacy reform, telehealth, extra bulk billing rates and GPs, these are the types of measures that will make a real difference and that’s what I’ll be discussing with the premiers, chief ministers and the prime minister,” he told reporters in Sydney.

A Productivity Commission health report released on Thursday showed an increase compared to previous years in the number of people delaying a medical appointment or filling a script because of the cost. 

Australian Council of Social Service head Cassandra Goldie said she was not surprised by the findings. 

“People on low and fixed incomes, including people on income support, have been trading off their health care to try and keep a roof over their head and to feed themselves,” she told ABC Radio. 

“We do need to get to the bottom of how to fix the health care system to make sure that it is affordable for people … and we cannot just rely on a market response to meet health care needs in this country.”

National bulk billing trends were also declining with 65.8 per cent of patients fully bulk billed, which the report said was “a reversal of the upward trend over the previous nine years of reported data”.

The report showed total government health spending was $132 billion, with public hospitals receiving the lion’s share at almost $82 billion.

This was followed by $45.8 billion for primary and community health and $4.9 billion for ambulance services – the most common entry points to the health system.

People were also waiting longer for urgent care from their GPs, with 39.1 per cent waiting 24 hours or more in 2021/22, up from 33.9 per cent in 2020/21.

The Australian College of Nursing called on federal, state and territory leaders to take urgent action to fix issues medical practitioners had warned about.

“Our Medicare system is no longer fit for purpose,” ACN chief executive Kylie Ward said.

“It is failing Australians and consumers are waiting longer to access high-quality health care than ever before.” 

The report showed an ageing workforce in general practice, with the number of full-time GPs aged 60 or older at more than 26 per cent – the highest proportion reported in the past seven years. 

This was compared to 2.5 per cent who were less than 30 years old. 

A separate report commissioned by the government from the Medicare task force will be considered by leaders at Friday’s meeting. 

Health Minister Mark Butler said the task force was looking at how to increase the numbers of general practitioners, nurses and doctors in the health care system.


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