NACCHO Aboriginal Health News alert : Health sector responds to third Federal health minister in 2 years

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Greg Hunt has been named Australia’s new Health Minister as part of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s fourth reshuffle since taking the top office.

Mr Hunt is also the third Federal Health Minister in 2 years after Peter Dutton and Sussan Ley

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See below for 8 responses from the health sector including AMA , AHHA, CHF, Winnunga ACCHO Pharmacy Guild of Australia , RACGP , Menzies Centre for Health Policy and Labor ( where you can also download their press releases )

NACCHO will be posting its response separately today

Ken Wyatt becomes first Indigenous person in Commonwealth ministry as Minister for Indigenous Health and Aged Care

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What’s in store for new health minister Greg Hunt –  A Primary care trial for 2017

The other areas of unfinished business according to Jim Gillespie ( see reponse 8 below ) offer more prospects. The government’s Health Care Homes pilot, commencing in July 2017, is a response to calls for a health system that is more focused on community-level primary care.

The experiment has been heavily criticised for a lack of funding and attempts to micromanage systems that are meant to be increasing GP initiatives.

With more political commitment, it could shift Australian health care towards rewarding prevention and more effective management of chronic illness. The alternative is expensive, disconnected high-tech patches to a system increasingly inaccessible to ordinary consumers.

1.Indigenous health, mental health, and prevention are priorities says AMA

“The AMA would like to see Mr Hunt get off to a flying start by scrapping the Government’s freeze of Medicare patient rebates, which is causing great hardship for patients and doctors,

The new Minister must also quickly get across the many reviews instigated by his predecessor, most importantly the review of the Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) and the review of Private Health Insurance, which are key to the sustainability of our health system.

The ongoing issue of public hospital funding is another priority, along with Indigenous health, mental health, and prevention.”

Download AMA Press Release ama

 AMA President, Dr Michael Gannon, today welcomed the appointment of Greg Hunt as Health Minister, saying that Mr Hunt’s experience as a senior Minister in the Environment and Industry portfolios should prepare him for the demands of the Health portfolio.

Dr Gannon said that Mr Hunt, who has been in Federal politics since 2001, and who was named Best Minister in the World at the 2016 World Government Summit, faces many challenges from day one in his new job.

2. WINNUNGA ACCHO welcomes new ministers

Winnunga Nimmityjah Aboriginal Health Service (Winnunga AHS) welcomes the appointment of Greg Hunt as Minister for Health, and the appointment of Australia’s first federal Indigenous Minister with Ken Wyatt’s elevation to the role of Minister for Aged Care and Indigenous Health.

“He comes in fresh and hopefully keeps an open mind and that between him and Ken we can really make some progress,”

With a sorry history of funding cuts in the health sector, Ms Tongs hopes the new minister, working with his newly-elevated colleague, Ken Wyatt, will see that keeping funding in “preventative health” will continue to save substantial money in the longer term.

“Greater effort, and resources, are crucial to preventative health so that we are not forever dealing with the impact of chronic disease,”

Ms Tongs praised the appointment of Ken Wyatt as Minister for Aged Care and Indigenous Health as “an excellent move by the Prime Minister”.

“I think that as minister for Indigenous health Ken will work in collaboration with our community.

“As an Aboriginal man I believe that he is aware of the challenges that face the Aboriginal health sector and Aboriginal health needs. He sees how valuable our sector is as an integral part of the health system right across the country,”

“I know that Minister Wyatt is keen to come to Winnunga AHS, and it would be good if he brought Mr Hunt with him.

“It’s about us and Minister Wyatt educating Minister Hunt about our sector,”

The Aboriginal Community-Controlled Health sector, more than being value for money, actually saves the community much more than it costs.

“We’ve had an economist look at our numbers, and we’ve got child protection, and a lot of other unfunded services that we provide here, so the $8.5 million we are funded actually provides a $40 million benefit to the ACT.

Download press release new-health-ministers-press-release

CEO, Julie Tongs is keen for both of the new ministers for health to come and take a tour of Winnunga AHS. She praised the appointment of Ken Wyatt as Minister for Aged Care and Indigenous Health as “an excellent move by the Prime Minister”.

 Mr Hunt’s appointment also offers a “real opportunity” for a fresh start in the health sector.

3.Health Care Homes reform must deliver positive results for governments says AHHA

‘Greg Hunt is seen by his peers as a safe pair of hands, and a good performer. We are hoping that he will bring to the job a coordinated and considered approach to health policy, supporting a strong public sector as well as the private system, but always having regard to equity and affordability for patients.

‘Unfortunately, some policy decisions in the recent past, designed to streamline the system and save money, for example the freeze on Medicare rebates, have had their own side-effects of significant increases in out-of-pocket costs, and patients delaying seeking medical care as a result.

‘Delays in seeking care can lead to higher costs later on for the health system if that patient presents later in a worse state of health through lack of medical attention’

‘The positive Health Care Homes primary care reform initiated by the former Minister Sussan Ley will continue, but there are also substantial associated risks with this, including the funding of the program, its design, and its supporting e-health and data infrastructure.

‘Mr Hunt must consider these issues as the 2017–18 budget is formulated. The Health Care Homes reform must deliver positive results for governments, health services and consumers, or it will go the way of previous primary care reform attempts.

Download press release ahha

Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association Chief Executive Alison Verhoeven

4.It is time for a National Vision for Australia’s Health 2025 says CHF

” The Health portfolio is currently in the midst of a wide range of changes and reforms, and we look forward to engaging with the new Minister to progress these important issues

It is clear that the community values the current health system – particularly our current universal public health insurance scheme – and wants all Australians to have access to quality health services. We understand that reform is necessary if the system is to be sustainable and continue to meet community expectations.”

We encourage the new Minister to recognise the value and place of Medicare as many voters do. Well-managed changes to modernise Medicare and make it fit-for-purpose for the 21st century will include both costs and savings and must include steps to y ensure quality and equitable healthcare. Balancing health system priorities will not be easy and we recognise the fiscal challenges in ensuring Medicare continues to offer realistic benefits for patient care.

In our 2017 Federal budget submission we outline consumers’ priorities for health. We commend it to the Minister as a guide for consumers wants and needs in his new portfolio” “It is time for a National Vision for Australia’s Health 2025 and for the government to move away from the current budgetary requirement for all new health expenditures to be offset by savings in the health portfolio.

We also suggest that action is taken in the following five key areas for consumers: prevention, primary health care, private health insurance, pharmacy and patient safety and participation.

Download press release chf-australia

CHF’s chief executive officer, Leanne Wells said

5. Labor is giving the new Health Minister a “to-do” list 

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This morning the Turnbull Government changed their salesperson, but they didn’t change their health policy.

Greg Hunt will start day one as Health Minister inheriting a list of cuts and policies which will make health care more expensive and less accessible for every Australian.

Labor is giving the new Health Minister a “to-do” list on behalf of the millions of Australians who rejected this Governments unfair health policy at the last election:

  • Drop the Medicare freeze, which is already having an impact on bulk billing rates
  • and will drive up out-of-pocket costs;
  • Drop the unfair health cuts, such as cuts to pathology and bulk billing which will
  • make it more expensive to have vital tests and life-saving scans;
  • Reverse the cuts of $400 million to dental programs for children
  • And once and for all, drop the zombie cuts such as the planned increases to PBS co-payments for general patients, concession patients and those with chronic illnesses.

Millions of Australians rejected Malcolm Turnbull’s unfair cuts at the last election. The Liberals didn’t listen – they took the same cuts to 2017 that they took to the last election.

Time and time again, Malcolm Turnbull has proven that he simply doesn’t get it when it comes to the health of Australians.

A change of Minister won’t do anything unless the policies change as well.

Download press Release labor-response

CATHERINE KING MP SHADOW MINISTER

6.There are a number of unresolved issues of concern to community pharmacy in Australia

” Greg Hunt takes over the portfolio at a time when there are a number of unresolved issues of concern to community pharmacy in Australia

It is critical that these issues are addressed and resolved quickly and satisfactorily to give security to community pharmacists so they can continue their work in improving the health outcomes of all Australians.

During the year the Sixth Community Pharmacy Agreement will reach its halfway mark and the Pharmacy Guild is committed to working with the Minister and the Federal Government to ensure the Agreement’s funding is fully and appropriately expended on programs and initiatives to improve health outcomes for patients and consumers.

To achieve this we need to work together to resolve any and all outstanding issues to clear the way to move forward.

Full Press Release

The National President of the Pharmacy Guild of Australia, George Tambassis, said the Guild looked forward to working closely and constructively with Mr Hunt during what is a challenging time for the health system, and in particular for the community pharmacy sector.

7. The provision of essential medical care for Australians has reached a crossroads and the nation’s general practice profession is at breaking point says RACGP

“The decisions Minister Hunt makes over the coming months will have far reaching impacts for our health system, for many years to come.

Here is a fresh opportunity for the Federal Government to demonstrate once and for all it is committed to equity in health care and a general practice system accessible for all Australians.”

The first and most effective move Minister Hunt should make is to heed the RACGP’s call to lift the Medicare freeze.

With the freeze on patient Medicare rebates lifted, the profession will be better placed to collaborate with the government and discuss the best way forward for the Australian health system,

I also encourage Minister Hunt to progress the ongoing MBS review, which is an incredibly important policy instrument for strengthening general practice.

The RACGP supports a contemporary and evidence based health system that genuinely prioritises the delivery of high quality, safe patient care by highly skilled specialist GPs.”

Download press release

RACGP President Dr Bastian Seidel said the appointment of a new health minister was a timely opportunity for the government to regroup and bolster its focus on general practice

8. What’s in store for new health minister Greg Hunt

Jim Gillespie  Deputy Director, Menzies Centre for Health Policy & Associate Professor in Health Policy, University of Sydney

Greg Hunt was today announced as federal health (and sport) minister following Sussan Ley’s expenses scandal and subsequent resignation. Hunt will be the third minister to hold this portfolio since the Coalition was elected in 2013. Successful health ministers need well-honed political skills, a lot of patience and even more backbone for the very public battles needed for real change.

So far, the Coalition has not covered itself with glory in the health portfolio. Ley took over in 2014 from the hapless Peter Dutton – whose main achievement was to unite almost all sectors of health against his plans for co-payments for GP visits.

The freeze on GP payments was inherited from the Gillard government, but now seems to be a permanent part of primary care policy. The pressure on GP earnings creates strong incentives to introduce or increase co-payments. The result will be continued pressure in the sensitive area of bulk-billing rates.

Implementation of Ley’s many health reviews

Ley launched a series of major reviews of spending programs – especially the Medicare Benefits Scheme. The proposals from these reviews are now on the table, and Hunt will have difficulty implementing them.

Private health insurance provides one of the government’s most intractable quandaries. Some 20 years ago, then Prime Minister John Howard devised an assistance program to prop up a failing industry. Government subsidies, through the private health insurance rebate, now stand at more than A$6 billion, increasing at well over inflation and outstripping wages growth.

Last year Ley pushed funds to reduce their original claims. Hunt will shortly have to consider the next round of increases.

The core problem is costs, especially of hospital services. However, the government abandoned a significant attempt to reduce the costs of prostheses, so that private insurers would pay closer to the much lower prices negotiated by public hospitals. After intense lobbying from the private hospitals and manufacturers that benefit from the current system, these issues were shunted to yet another committee of inquiry.

More broadly, the private health insurance industry has been struggling to find a long term and sustainable place. For the first time since the 1990s, there has been a significant decline in the proportion of Australians buying insurance policies. Attempts to broaden its base – such as Medibank’s links with GP services – resulted in a backlash from consumers and medical practitioners.

The costs of unnecessary or low-value medical services has been at the heart of the government’s review of the Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) – the list of Medicare payments for services.

A recent series of articles in the prestigious Lancet journal, with substantial Australian content, has underlined the importance of improving the use of evidence-based approaches and value for money. The Lancet authors have stressed the need for system reform:

… policies must move beyond the purely incremental; that is, policies that merely tinker at the policy edges after underuse or overuse arises.

Expert taskforces led by clinicians to review the almost 6,000 MBS items have made detailed recommendations of changes to the use of items and levels of payment. Hunt will need to chart the government’s response to these recommendations. The MBS review has maintained an admirable air of consensus so far. This is unlikely to last as particular areas are singled out for action.

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