AMA Federal Budget Submission 2011-12

1 Mar 2011

When economic and fiscal conditions are difficult, governments and households tend to restrict their investment in health care.

This pattern is not unique to Australia. During the global financial crisis, it occurred in wealthy and poor countries alike. When health expenditure is restricted, investment in preventive health measures often falls to even more inadequate levels.

This means that potential better health outcomes and cost savings through preventive health are lost. There is a strong and valid argument that health investment should increase or at least be maintained in tough economic times or times of crisis such as the recent floods.

The health impacts from these events, especially mental health, are significant. Health care is an investment in the social fabric of the nation and in the productivity of the workforce.

It is an excellent investment. When done well, it can generate a return of immeasurable value in terms of a healthy, happy and productive population.

Many Australians enjoy access to a very large number of high quality health services at a very modest cost. But for some time Australia has been under-investing in health care.

For example, our public hospitals are under very intense workload pressure and are not providing all patients with appropriate and timely access to emergency services and elective surgery.

The mental health system is not even reaching many patients and it is failing too many others. And Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are experiencing health status that is, at best, on a par with some of the poorest countries on the planet.

While we have areas of excellence in our health system, we also have many areas where we should and could be doing a lot better. It requires commitment, targeted financial investment, and investment in the health workforce.

Australia can afford to do a lot better in health. We weathered the global financial crisis with less economic and financial pain and less social dislocation than any other advanced economy.

The AMA welcomes the fact that the Federal Government has recognised at least some of the deficiencies in health care and that it has identified second-term priorities including mental health, aged care, and a national disability insurance scheme.

However, the AMA is not convinced that all Australian governments fully understand the scale of investment that will be required to maintain Australia’s health system as one of the better systems in the world and to meet the challenges of an ageing population.

If we are able to keep older people well and independent longer into their retirement, we will get more from every dollar we spend on health – but only if we make the appropriate investments at the outset.

The AMA Budget Submission identifies areas where additional investment in health care and health infrastructure is needed and should be considered in the forthcoming Federal Budget.

Each of these investments, if adopted, would generate great returns to the Australian community. Each of these investments, if neglected, implies a cost to the Australian community.

The AMA does not suggest that the answer to every question is to spend more.

We have identified areas where the Government can spend more effectively. There are ways to improve the management and the functioning of our public hospitals and major programs such as the MBS and the PBS, and there are ways to further improve outcomes from chronic disease management, prevention and early intervention.

We have identified the areas that Australia needs to address right now in order to have a high quality health system into the future - in particular, investments in health workforce and health and medical research.

The AMA is fully aware of the demands on the Federal Budget from global economic pressures and the massive recovery and reconstruction programs following floods and fires and cyclones.

But we believe strongly that spending on health is an investment that will underpin the rebuilding and restoration of productivity, cohesion and confidence in the Australian population.