Health | Ageing

Healthcare is not an optional extra

The pressure healthcare places on government budgets is a rising issue, but cutting funding to the system is not the answer, Queensland Minister for Health and Minister for Ambulance Services, the Hon. Cameron Dick said.

“Queenslanders have a right to expect the Federal Government to continue to proportionately and fairly fund the services that they rely on,” he said at CEDA Queensland’s Health series event.

Mr Dick spoke about the recent media reports that the Federal Government is looking at ways of saving money on the after-hours National Home Doctor Service.

“Last financial year that service was accessed on 762 thousand occasions in Queensland,” he said.

Mr Dick said a recent survey by Deloitte showed that 56 per cent of the patients who accessed this service would have presented to an emergency department or after-hours clinic if that service was not available.

Mr Dick said the Deloitte report also shows that the average patient self-presenting at an emergency department costs taxpayers $368. That cost soars to $1351 if a patient calls an ambulance, whereas an afterhours consultation with a home doctor costs the healthcare system $128. 

“So I ask the federal government’s razor gang to bear these figures in mind when framing their upcoming budget,” he said.

“Any cuts to this service will inevitably add to the budget bottom line in other ways, as well as adding pressure to our emergency departments as people access medical assistance after hours.”

Mr Dick also said the private health system has its part to play in dealing with increasing demand, highlighting the prospect of denying privately insured patients the right to access their health funds while receiving treatments in public hospitals.

“Last year public hospitals in Queensland received $370 million from this funding source. All this money is ploughed back into the system to provide more services to treat patients,” he said.

“Removing it would mean fewer doctors, fewer nurses, fewer services and longer waiting times.”

Mr Dick said payments members make to their private health insurance funds are premiums and not donations.

“If, for whatever reason, a private patient choses to receive treatment in public hospitals, that is a decision they are entitled to make,” he said.

“If they make the further choice to allow the hospital to claim a portion of the cost of that care from their health fund, that is also a matter for them.”

Mr Dick said there are only 16 locations in Queensland that have private hospitals and for residents with private health insurance living outside these areas there is no reasonable choice other than to access a public hospital.

Mr Dick said that private hospital insurance premiums also continue to rise well in excess of inflation.

Mr Dick said while it’s true that the health care costs continue to increase, the profits of the insurance companies remain very healthy.

“The arguments of the funds, that the payments recouped by public hospitals contributes to this, is not supported by the evidence,” he said.

“Indeed, costs that are able to be claimed by public hospitals from private patients is capped at $352 a day, well below the average charge by private hospitals of $1400 per day. In other words, public hospitals are saving private health insurance companies money.

“So any move to remove this source of revenue for public hospitals would, in my view, be short sighted and ill-considered and I urge the (Federal) Health Minister Greg Hunt to reflect on the impact that such a decision would have on the delivery of health services in Queensland, particularly to those Queenslanders living in regional parts of our state,” he said.

“Healthcare is not some optional extra, and health funding is not discretionary spending.

“It is not a challenge that is well served by the constant shifting by the commonwealth to the states, as though the commonwealth and state governments are somehow concerned with the needs of different people.

“What are the values to which we aspire if one of the casualties of budgetary pressures is the principle that clinical care should be led by medical need, and not the lottery of the place and circumstance of a person’s birth or the tyranny of economic disadvantage or geographic distance.

“To those who say that universal healthcare is unaffordable, I say to deny it is unconscionable.”