No more blame game and cost shifting: considered debate needed to ensure healthcare for all

Monday, July 20, 2015

“Leaders at the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) retreat being held this week must seize the opportunity to elevate the debate on reform of the Federation and tax system to consider the significant value of affordable healthcare and a strong public health system for all Australians.

“Australians do not want timid discussions, or worse uninformed silence, around these topics that are vital in shaping our future healthcare system,” said Alison Verhoeven, Chief Executive of the Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association (AHHA).

The Commonwealth Government has initiated two White Paper processes on Reform of the Federation and Reform of the Tax System and has repeatedly confirmed that these will form the basis of policies the Coalition will take to the next election. They have also imposed the single largest ever cost‑shift to the States and Territories in the 2014‑15 Budget by unilaterally walking away from the National Health Reform Agreement on public hospital funding from 2017‑18.

“This Budget decision improves the Commonwealth fiscal bottom line,“ said Ms Verhoeven, “but in the absence of any offsetting revenue measures, the Commonwealth has quite simply cost‑shifted to the States and Territories $57 billion over eight years in expected funding for public hospital services.

“This is clearly not a sustainable situation. It most certainly is not in the interests of every Australian who has a reasonable expectation of affordable, safe and quality healthcare.”

The reform processes were initiated with a call for bi‑partisan considered and mature debate. But with few exceptions, the public discourse has so far been limited, with little public discussion of the consequences of cost-shifting between the Commonwealth and the States.

“All Governments and all sides of politics agree that current arrangements are not working as well as they should and are not financially sustainable to deliver needed public services. This retreat represents the opportunity to demonstrate genuine partnership and leadership for Australia’s future.

“I call on all nine First Ministers to engage with this process in an open and constructive manner, taking into account the value of a strong public health system and accepting shared responsibility for the wellbeing of Australians. While agreement may not be reached on all matters, let all Australians at least understand the issues, the options and what trade‑offs might be involved,” said Ms Verhoeven.

“This needs to happen for the future of our healthcare system and other vital public services.”

The Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association is the national peak body for public and not-for-profit hospitals, community and primary healthcare services, and advocates for universal, high quality and affordable healthcare to benefit the whole community.

Media enquiries:

Alison Verhoeven

Chief Executive, The Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association

0403 282 501