AMA Federal Budget Submission 2009-10

1 Mar 2009

There is no better investment than health.

The health of the population of a nation underpins its productivity.

The AMA believes this principle should inform the 2009-10 Federal Budget process. As government looks to stimulate the economy in the face of a global economic crisis, health should top the agenda as a practical investment that will return substantial dividends.

With predictions for contraction of the economy and increasing unemployment rates, the Government’s responsibility and support for the access of high quality health services for the Australian people become even more significant.

Maintaining high standards of clinical care through public hospitals and Medicare and maintaining incentives to support access to private health care services are essential.

Doctors are engaged with the very human side of health: caring for the individual, preventing disease and disability, and helping patients live longer, stronger, happier, healthier lives. Doctors are also conscious of the economic impact of quality health care at a national level.

Health underpins the individual, families, communities and the workforce. Health is the foundation of productivity and the social conditions of communities and is basic to closing the gap between the fortunate and those not so fortunate.

Accessible high-quality health care is fundamentally important for business efficiency and profitability.

The Business Council of Australia estimates that poor health costs the community $7 billion a year in absenteeism alone, while employees coming to work sick and unproductive cost a further $25.7 billion a year. Australia’s ageing population adds another imperative where high quality health care can extend the working life of individuals who might otherwise retire due to ill health.

Keeping older Australians well and able in retirement helps to maintain their independence. Refreshingly, there is evidence that government has embraced the benefits of investing in health.

The AMA welcomed the commitment of Australian governments to supporting our world-class health care system, as demonstrated in the December 2008 Council of Australian Governments’ decisions. Particularly pleasing was the Federal Government’s recognition of the AMA’s urgent call for funding of 3,750 more public hospital beds, including a more realistic indexation regime in the Specific Purpose Payments area.

The response to the AMA’s request for funding of extra training places for doctors is also most welcome. The AMA will be watching closely and working with State and Territory Governments to ensure they keep their end of the health cost-sharing bargain.

The COAG announcements focus on the practical issues that support the health system, and the goal is for all Australians to have access to our high standard of world-class medical care. With further investment these decisions will deliver substantial long-term results.

This AMA Budget submission takes account of the positive pre-Budget spending decisions that have been announced to date and encourages further practical investments. The following measures can be broadly categorised around the theme of supporting Australia’s high quality health system and focusing on the areas where access to this system needs to be improved.

The AMA Budget submission covers realistic investments in crucial health issues, from supporting access to medical services for Indigenous and rural communities to helping ensure affordability of medical services for Australians with proper indexation of the MBS.

The measures also include ways to improve the functioning of our public hospitals, the MBS and the PBS, and further improve outcomes from chronic disease management and prevention and early intervention. Importantly, the submission also includes a range of workforce measures, beyond those addressed by COAG, which will give Australia the capacity to meet future challenges and to fill current unmet needs.

As well as being fiscally attractive, practical and responsible, an investment in health is also a sound political investment. Health is a priority for each of us as individuals.

No government has ever been criticised for investing in health. The AMA urges the Federal Government to give serious consideration to these proposals.