Rising health care costs: How might they be tackled?

  • A new report shows Australians are delaying medical care due to rising health care costs.
  • The report highlights declining bulk billing rates, longer wait times, and an aging GP workforce.
  • It comes as Prime Minister Anthony Albanese is set to meet state leaders to discuss a plan to overhaul Medicare.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese will meet with state and territory leaders to consider a plan to solve challenges within Australia’s healthcare system.
Premiers and chief ministers will meet Mr Albanese in Canberra on Friday for the first national cabinet meeting of the year, after he hosted dinner at the Lodge on Thursday night.
At the top of the agenda will be the findings of a review by the Medicare task force on measures to improve healthcare affordability and accessibility, support Australians with chronic health conditions and take pressure off hospitals.

Leaders will also be updated on Closing the Gap measures, energy priorities, national firearms reform, local government and housing.

What will be raised at the National Cabinet?

Ahead of the meeting, NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet called for new ways to address challenges such as long wait times and decreasing staff numbers.
“The first thing is we need to better integrate the primary care, GP network with the public health system … right across the country,” he told reporters in Sydney on Thursday.
Mr Perrottet said it was important for all levels of government to start with the best policies, rather than focus on a specific dollar amount.
“Whether it’s pharmacy reform, telehealth, extra bulk-billing rates and GPs, these are the types of measures that will make a real difference and that’s what I’ll be discussing with the premiers, chief ministers and the prime minister,” he said .

A Productivity Commission health report released on Thursday showed an increase compared to previous years in the number of people delaying a medical appointment or filling a script because of the cost.

A man wearing a suit addresses the media.

NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet says he will raise a number of measures to tackle rising health care costs at Friday’s National Cabinet meeting. Source: AAP / AND HIMBRECHTS

Australian Council of Social Service head Cassandra Goldie said she was not surprised by the findings.

“People on low and fixed incomes, including people on income support, have been trading off their health care to try and keep a roof over their head and to feed themselves,” she told ABC Radio.

“We do need to get to the bottom of how to fix the health care system to make sure that it is affordable for people … and we cannot just rely on a market response to meet health care needs in this country.”

Bulk billing rates fall

National bulk billing trends were also declining with 65.8 per cent of fully bulk billed patients, which the report said was “a reversal of the upward trend over the previous nine years of reported data”.
The report showed total government health spending was $132 billion, with public hospitals receiving the lion’s share at almost $82 billion.

This was followed by $45.8 billion for primary and community health and $4.9 billion for ambulance services – the most common entry point to the health system.

People were also waiting longer for urgent care from their GPs, with 39.1 per cent waiting 24 hours or more in 2021/22, up from 33.9 per cent in 2020/21.

The Australian College of Nursing (ACN) called on federal, state, and territory leaders to take urgent action to fix issues medical practitioners had warned about.

A close up of Medicare cards.

Health Minister Mark Butler said the Medicare task force was looking at how to increase the numbers of general practitioners, nurses, and doctors in the health care system.

‘Medicare is failing Australians’

“Our Medicare system is no longer fit for purpose,” ACN chief executive Kylie Ward said.
“It is failing Australians and consumers are waiting longer to access high-quality health care than ever before.”
The report showed an aging workforce in general practice, with the number of full-time GPs aged 60 or older at more than 26 per cent – the highest proportion reported in the past seven years.
This was compared to 2.5 per cent who were less than 30 years old.
A separate report commissioned by the government from the Medicare task force will be considered by leaders at Friday’s meeting.
Health Minister Mark Butler said the Medicare advisory group had recommended measures to improve access to health care and deliver better patient support.
“Australians deserve access to a primary care system for the 21st century,” he said.

“A system that reflects the disease profile of an older population, including a population that has more complex chronic disease.”

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