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Election 2004: health care providers comment on ALP's health policy.

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Wednesday 29 September 2004

Election 2004: health care providers comment on ALP's health policy


DAVID HARDAKER: As we've heard, a centrepiece of Mark Latham's launch today was his plan for hospitals and for Medicare. So what's been the reaction from the health industry? 


Nick Grimm filed this report from Canberra. 


NICK GRIMM: This time yesterday Mark Latham was copping a blast from the Catholic and Anglican archbishops of Sydney and Melbourne over his schools funding policy. Today, Catholic health care providers are giving the Labor Leader their blessing for his new Medicare Gold policy. 


FRANCIS SULLIVAN: We're delighted with Medicare Gold. 


NICK GRIMM: Francis Sullivan is the Chief Executive of Catholic Health Australia. 


FRANCIS SULLIVAN: The Catholic health sector has, for many years, called for a program similar to this. We've asked both sides of politics to do something practical and fair to improve the chances of elderly Australians to access hospital care more quickly. 


NICK GRIMM: But what about other Australians? Does that mean that they're going to be further down the list, the priority list, when it comes to getting into a hospital bed? 


FRANCIS SULLIVAN: No, not necessarily at all. The whole purpose of this is to use the capacity of the private hospital sector and to expand the capacity in public hospitals so that the over-75's get to hospital more quickly, at the same time that reduces the length of waiting time for others. 


NICK GRIMM: You've actually come up with names for schemes like this in the past, haven't you? 


FRANCIS SULLIVAN: Yes, over the last 10 years we've had many schemes. In the past we've called it a Medicare grey card, in this election campaign Medicare Seniors Plus. 


NICK GRIMM: As it were, the grey card is turning gold? 




NICK GRIMM: And while, as Francis Sullivan points out, Medicare Gold may not be an entirely new idea, Mark Latham's announcement today had other players in the health sector scrambling to study the detail. 


A quick examination from doctors has seen them give the plan a cautious thumbs-up. 


Dr Mukesh Haikerwal is the Vice President of the Australian Medical Association. 


MUKESH HAIKERWAL: Look, we believe that the Medicare Gold package looks good in theory, and our concern is is it going to be real gold in practice? 


NICK GRIMM: Why, what sort of concerns do you have? 


MUKESH HAIKERWAL: The concerns are that we have a large number of people out there on the waiting list, and that's very important that we look after them.  


We think that the system is actually innovate in the way it looks at the interface issues for people as they exit the community to go to hospital, and as they leave the hospital to come back either to home or to an aged care facility.  


It's important that there is an over-arching view on this, and it's important that people get access to the right sorts of care for their needs. 


NICK GRIMM: Okay, some ticks there for the plan, but where are the negatives? 


MUKESH HAIKERWAL: What's important is that when engaging with the private sector to provide some of this care, which again is a positive, that needs to be done in a way that isn't eroded away with time.  


We've seen some really good schemes - one is called Medicare, the other is called the DVA Gold Card system, and what's happened with both of those is that they've been eroded away from where they started so that they have no value. 


The other important thing is that there are people who are under 75 in the system too, and although it's important that we do look after our older folk, we need to make sure that there is sufficient capacity within the system to look after everybody else who will be getting sick at the same time. 


NICK GRIMM: The private health insurance sector, meanwhile, is also searching for any hidden catches in the fine print. 


Russell Schneider from the Australian Health Insurance Association. 


RUSSELL SCHNEIDER: Well, still trying to analyse that. It's superficially, obviously, quite an interesting policy which no doubt many people will find attractive. I guess with all these things it's a case of trying to get into the detail and understand exactly what's involved. 


NICK GRIMM: You're concerned there could be some devil in the detail? 


RUSSELL SCHNEIDER: Well, there's always devil in the detail. Or perhaps there's not devil, perhaps there's sometimes delight in the detail too, so we need to look at that and examine it fully. 


I guess the sorts of questions about it would be, what impact would it have on the overall hospital system? The private hospital system today is pretty, pretty well fully utilised, so I guess there'd be some question marks about availability of beds. 


NICK GRIMM: Of course, older Australians are a very costly demographic for the health insurance industry as well. You must be pleased that a Latham government would be helping you with that burden? 


RUSSELL SCHNEIDER: Well, they cost a lot but they also pay a lot too, and many of them have been insured all their lives, and I think that's another significant question - whether people who've paid for health insurance all their lives because it gives them choices and security would be happy about finding that maybe those choices weren't quite what they thought. 


NICK GRIMM: Is this likely to have any negative effects for your industry? I mean, would people abandon their private health cover as a result of this? 


RUSSELL SCHNEIDER: No, I don't think that'd take place, I think that overall… I mean for a start this applies to people over 75, and I think that they'll be looking at it, and probably the main question they'll be asking is does this give it… does this actually give me the choices that I would have and that I've been paying for health insurance for? 


DAVID HARDAKER: Russell Schneider from the Australian Health Insurance Association with Nick Grimm.