Academics strike out at Abbott's health budget

SEVERAL leading public health experts have hit out at the key foundations of the Abbott government's health budget, as the government struggles to get Senate support for its agenda.

Health experts at five of Australia's top universities on Wednesday struck at several major health decisions made in the May budget, which the government hopes to have in place by July next year.

Among their concerns were the effect of the $7 GP co-payment; the $5 Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme co-payment and the massive medical research fund, which will not put any money towards preventative health.

The academics also criticised removing billions of dollars from state health and hospital systems and changes to the private health insurance rebate and Medicare levy surcharges.

In several editorials in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, the strident criticism of the government's major health policy initiatives comes as Mr Dutton reiterated Wednesday he was willing to negotiate with the Senate.

But Mr Dutton, who said he would take on "sensible" feedback from cross-benchers, faces an uphill battle trying to change the positions of Labor, The Greens and the Palmer United Party, which all remain opposed to the GP co-payment among other budget measures.

PUP leader Clive Palmer has said he was not willing to make any deals on the GP co-payment.

Mr Dutton is in talks with the Australian Medical Association in a bid to garner its support.

The AMA was opposed to the current GP co-payment system, but has previously said it was open to accepting it if concession card-holders were exempt.

Mr Dutton refused to comment in detail about any of the negotiations, in or outside parliament, he was currently in, but said remained "open to ideas".

He said the budget measures, if passed by the Senate, would still ensure bulk-billing remained and there was still a Medicare "safety net" in place.

Mr Dutton also said the case for the $7 GP co-payment was already made, and the government had already ruled out the original $17 co-payment proposal, while those who have more than 10 visits will not have to pay.

But his comments will do little to soothe the concerns of public health experts across the board, with a raft of criticisms published in the journal on Wednesday.

University of Wollongong's Australian Health Services Research Institute's Simon Eckermann wrote the GP co-payment would "reduce use of primary health care in precisely the populations in which they are most cost-effective".

"If the health sector is required to do some heavy lifting to reduce public sector debt or raise funds for medical research, then the proposed measures fail miserably by failing to account for impacts on other parts of the health system and public services more widely," he wrote.

The Public Health Association of Australia's Michael Moore and University of Wollongong's Heather Yeatman wrote that the medical research fund was "deliberately a medical, rather than a health and medical, fund".

They wrote that evidence from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare showed chronic diseases were going to be the "major challenge to better health outcomes".

"These will not be solved through 'new cures and treatment'," the article reads.

The authors also wrote that the $5 co-payment for PBS-listed medicines, the abolition of the National Preventative health Agency and other government programs were part of a budget that was "a killer in multiple ways".

Similarly, Menzies Centre for Health Policy researcher Sharon Friel wrote the opportunity to live "a long and healthy life in Australia is already unequally distributed".

She wrote that the poorest and disadvantaged people, as well as those living in rural and remote Australia, already had poorer outcomes than wealthier people in major cities.

"A $7 co-payment for a visit to the doctor and increased cost of medicines would undoubtedly affect lower income groups more than others, thereby potentially resulting in higher mortality and morbidity for some and increasing costs and suffering," she wrote.


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