Australia’s life expectancy set to drop

 

Australia's life expectancy is set to fall, private health insurance is in a death spiral and no one wants to train to be a GP, the Australian Medical Association president has warned.

Dr Tony Bartone has issued a dark warning about the perils facing our health system as public hospital waiting lists reach record levels and the treatment of our elderly and mentally ill is under the spotlight.

Unless more money was spent on prevention and primary care, "Australia's increasing rate of life expectancy will most definitely reverse its trend for the first time in the best part of a century," he said.

"The time for talk is over. It is now time for action," the head of Australia's doctors union told the National Press Club in Canberra today.

After 15 quarters of declining membership which has seen young people spurn the product while the sick and elderly join up "private health insurance is currently in trouble - real trouble", Dr Bartone said.

Federal President of the AMA Dr Tony Bartone addressing the National Press Club in Canberra. Picture: Kym Smith
Federal President of the AMA Dr Tony Bartone addressing the National Press Club in Canberra. Picture: Kym Smith

It is entering a death spiral where only the big users of the health system - the sick and the elderly-remain covered driving up the cost of the product so it becomes unaffordable.

Insurers have to increase the rebates they pay doctors for providing to return value to the product and cut out of pocket costs to their members if they want to survive, he said.

"Otherwise, private health care might really become the exclusive domain of the very elite in our community. Otherwise, the equity and access that underpin our system will become a distant memory," he said.

If that happens "the notion of free and affordable universal access in this country will simply evaporate overnight," he said.

Making a plea for better funding of GP care he said GP training had been under subscribed for two years as medical graduates seeking better incomes opted for specialty training.

Governments spend just $382 per person annually in GP care while $2,606 is spent per person on public hospitals, he said.

The AMA wants a 10-Year Plan for primary health care and general practice that sees an increase in the $38.20 Medicare rebates for the standard GP consultation.

"Current remuneration structures do not value GPs' time or the significant complexity of their work. Instead, they reward volume over value," he said.

Increase Medicare rebates for GPO care says AMA president Picture. istock image
Increase Medicare rebates for GPO care says AMA president Picture. istock image

Governments must also invest in funding wrap around co-ordinated primary care for patients with a chronic illness to improve their outcomes and keep them out of expensive hospital care, he said.

The employment of nurses, pharmacists, and allied health professionals in general practice would fail if the payments remain capped at current levels, which have not changed since 2012, he said.

The AMA wants a single employer model for GP training which would see the trainees accrue holidays, long service leave and maternity leave in the same way as hospital specialists do.

To bolster mental health care Dr Bartone wants Australia to adopt the New Zealand model where they put frontline mental health staff in primary care clinics working as part of the GP-led team.

To trim Australia's ballooning hospital costs the government must invest in a preventive health strategy he said.

"We need an overarching obesity prevention policy. This must include a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages, and restrictions on junk food advertising to children. Let's just do it," Dr Bartone said.

"We need a new National Alcohol Strategy, including measures such as a volumetric tax and front-of-packet warnings on alcohol products. Let's just do it," he said.



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