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Democrats to amend Medicare bill

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/ A h MEDIA RELEASE j T Deputy Leader, Australian Democrats Senator Meg Lees

Tuesday, December 15, 1992 MR 92/682


The Australian Democrats will today pass the Medicare Agreements Bill after securing Government support for two important amendments.

The Democrats' Deputy Leader and Health spokesperson, Senator Meg Lees, says she will move to ensure there is a direct link between any further drop in the number of people with private health insurance and an automatic review of Commonwealth hospital funding for the States, and to ensure that for the first time genuine national health goals are set within the next 18 months.

The amendment linking private health insurance and Commonwealth funding means that for any two percent drop in private health insurance participation, a review of Commonwealth hospital funding to the States is triggered; the process and result

of that review are to be matters of negotiation between individual States and the Commonwealth when coming to final terms under the Agreement.

The amendment effectively puts in place a funding safety net for the States.

Senator Lees said the amendment was designed to address the concerns raised by the States who pointed out - whether the Federal Government liked it or not - that private insurance in effect subsidised the public hospital system, and any decrease in the number of people privately insured could put an additional strain on public hospital services.

Senator Lees said the fundamental point was that the money had to come from somewhere to fund an adequate hospital system. She said whether it came from the public or private sector was an ideological debate with pros and cons on both sides, with the Democrats favouring the public side. '*

The matter of establishing National Health Goals and Targets was raised at the Senate Committee hearing. Senator Lees said it was long-standing Democrat policy to have goals defined so the nation actually knew where it was heading with health care - "a target to aim at" - instead of constant ad hocery.

"It is important that this Agreement not just focus on hospitals, but that it should take into account a wider view of the overall health care system and issues relating to health and well-being," Senator Lees said.

"We must build on the excellent work done by the National Health Strategy research team. The evidence points to underspending in certain crucial longer-term health areas. These include dental care, all sorts of preventive measures, community health ' ...12 (over)




centres and specific programs targeted at 'at risk' lower socio-economic groups, including Aboriginal Health services.

"The Government has spent a lot of money in conducting research in these areas. It is time to set some real goals - in areas ranging from breast screening to physical education and diet in schools - and to work toward them."

The requirement for the Commonwealth and States to set these goals within the first year of the new Agreement will be written into the legislation.


Senator Lees emphasised the following four points in relation to the Medicare Agreements Bill.

1. The Democrats are strong supporters of Medicare;

2. The negotiation process has left a lot to be desired, with the states treated at times with near contempt by the Commonwealth;

3. The Democrats will be moving two amendments to the Medicare Agreement: (a) for any two percent drop in private health insurance participation numbers an automatic review of Commonwealth funding is triggered; that review process allows the States to negotiate increases in hospital funding; and

(b) the Commonwealth and the States must agree, during the first year of the new Agreement, on national health goals and targets and a timetable for their continuing development and implementation; ยท .

4. Waiting lists (a) The $70 million provided by the Commonwealth to decrease waiting lists is welcomed; but

(b) There is an urgent need to Yeview the problem of specialist shortages in particular areas. In certain cases waiting lists appear to be much more a structural specialist availability problem than a funding problem.

We are assured a review is currently being undertaken by the Department in cooperation with the relevant specialist colleges.

The Democrats remain concerned on this matter - having seen little change over a number of years - and will be holding in reserve a Senate Inquiiy reference examining specialists' role in health costs and waiting lists if solutions to the current problems are not found quickly.

FOR COMMENT: Senator Meg Lees (06) 277-3991