Election 2022: sports rorts, car porks and many snouts in the trough
No matter which party wins tomorrow’s Australian federal election or who holds the balance of power, there are three generation-defining issues facing the country: climate change, debt and healthcare. All three rank the highest in voters’ concerns, and detailed answers to all three have been tacitly avoided by the two major parties during this election campaign.
When it comes to health – whether that is primary care, hospital care, aged care, disability care or preventative health – the problems are stark and the answers are not easy, but they need to be confronted. The Coalition boasts of its record funding for Medicare and its response to the Aged Care Royal Commission, while the ALP conjures up urgent care clinics, voluntary patient enrolment and ensuring our elderly are properly fed. The Greens want to add dental care to the mix, and even though there is a very noticeable number of trained doctors standing for parliament, most are running on platforms concerned with climate change or political integrity rather than fixing the health system.
Hospitals didn’t really get a look in, despite ambulance ramping and bed blocking at an all-time crisis point in every state and territory in the country. The peak medical bodies are now showing white hot anger and are demanding that the next health minister sit down with them and acknowledge the crisis, calling for an urgent hospital summit. The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age health reporter Dana Daniel gave a pretty good overview of where everyone is at with acute care, and it ain’t pretty no matter which way your politics lie.
In primary care, the ALP made a vague stab at a new policy with its $1 billion package last Saturday, promising $250m each year over three years to begin the move to VPE and providing a new funding model for patients with chronic illnesses to be cared for through team care arrangements with their general practice. Labor also promised $220m for a fund for practices to buy equipment, including IT for telehealth and wound care supplies. Outgoing health minister Greg Hunt immediately dubbed this a slush fund, and while he is absolutely right, it’s also a bit hypocritical coming from the party behind sports rorts and car porking.
Rural GP Paul Mara drew attention to the paradox of organisations like the RACGP, which at its practice owners’ conference in Hobart last weekend was arguing on one hand that GPs needed to drop bulk billing and start charging patients more, while on the other rubbing its hands with glee at the thought of all of this lovely moolah potentially on offer. “The RACGP is walking astride a barb wire fence, with one hand on a Liberal type copayment and the other in Labor’s trough,” Dr Mara said. Quite.
So is health and aged care funding just an intractable problem that will never be fixed? Are we doomed to suffer crisis after crisis in all areas of healthcare policy, our hospitals blocked, our ambulances ramped, our GPs burned out, our nurses under-paid and our elderly under-fed? It seems so, with no one willing to put concrete proposals on the table to enable real structural reform. We in the health IT industry think we have part of the solution, but without any money – or more importantly, political will – we still seem to be going nowhere.
We asked readers just last month if they thought the parties had dropped the ball on healthcare policy in this election campaign. A cool 97 per cent of you said yes. It’s hard to see how that has changed over the last few weeks.
So while we wait to see the fate of our political leaders, we plod on regardless. There’s been a little bit of other news this week: New Zealand released its budget and decided to fund some interesting data and digital infrastructure projects, but it too has found healthcare funding an intractable problem and has decided instead to completely upend the whole district health board system.
In Australia, some action is happening for aged care software vendors to begin the process (again) of getting aged care more digitised, but at the same time the federal Department of Health is insisting on going ahead with its highly controversial plans to cap the money it pays to support the electronic prescribing system. It is certainly not taking a backward step in the face of intense industry lobbying, as this story shows.
Next week, when all the dust of the election campaign settles, we can hopefully return to more mundane pursuits in the digital health sector. There’s still a lot of positive change going on in our industry, if only we could get our hands on some of that moolah. Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more.
That brings us to our poll for the week:
Is adequate funding for health and aged care an intractable problem that will never be fixed?
Vote here or leave your comments below.
Last week, we asked: Will the JP2060 Phase 4 health knowledge management system proposal work?
Most readers seemed positive, with just over two-thirds saying yes. Some of those who said no had an interesting argument or two. Here’s what you said.