The federal Australian government has proposed huge funding for hospital upgrades and construction. But critics are not impressed. They say it is not a budget aimed at assuaging the worries of the recession-hit Australians.
A record $64 billion in health and hospital funding has been flagged in the latest budget.
AdvertisementThe government funding will be rolled out over the next five years and include $1.1 billion to train more doctors, nurses and allied health professionals.
The Federal Government has also allocated $1.5 billion to upgrade hospitals and clinical training infrastructure across Australia.
However the full amount of this funding will not be rolled out until 2015.
This fund includes hospital development and expansions across all states and the Northern Territory.
A further $1.3 billion will focus on modernising cancer services across the country, including $460 million to build a network of up to 11 regional cancer centres across Australia.
Meanwhile, the Government will scrap the private health insurance rebate for high income earners and cap the program for some middle-income earners.
The Government says capping the rebate will reap savings of $1.9 billion over the next four years.
Treasurer Wayne Swan says the private health insurance rebate is no longer affordable.
"Spending on the private health insurance rebate is growing unsustainably and disproportionately favours those on higher incomes," he said.
However, health authorities have warned that means testing the rebate will force people out of private health insurance and put more pressure on the public health system.
The Government will also cap some services under the Medicare safety net, including IVF treatment, obstetrics, cataract operations and varicose vein treatment.
The Government says it will reduce Medicare rebates for certain services to reflect advances in medical technology, saving the Government $153.4 million over four years.
Over $200 million will be invested to close the gap in Indigenous health, including $131 million over the next three years for regional services in the Northern Territory.
A $120 million package has also been announced to improve choice and access to maternity services across Australia. This will include a new round-the-clock telephone support hotline for pregnant women and new mothers and families.
Medibank Private is set to become a for-profit Government-owned business under the Government's Budget health reform.
Finance Minister Lindsay Tanner says the conversion will allow Medibank Private to compete with other players in the private health insurance market.
"This is an important change as it will ensure competitive neutrality in the private health insurance industry," he said.
"For the first time, Medibank Private will pay tax on profits and return dividends to the Government."
Some apprehend this could be the thin end of the privatization wedge, but the government vehemently denies any such intention.
But the Australian Medical Association (AMA) said the government had failed to deliver on its promises for better healthcare for ordinary citizens.
AMA President, Dr Rosanna Capolingua said the budget will mean many Australians will pay more for health adding to their anxiety when they are already stressed about job security and the future.
"More detailed analysis is needed, but one thing is clear: the government's broken promises and lack of understanding will mean sick Australians will wait longer or pay more for health.
"Estimates are that we will have one million people unemployed and we fear the ravages of this will hit the health system harder than the government realises. Many of these Australians will be forced to rely on our crumbling public health system. They will need help with a broad range of health issues including stress related illness and mental health. "We would have at least wanted to quarantine health and increase the investment in health, because we know it has been depleted and there is an area of need.
"We haven't seen a quarantining, we have actually seen some money stripped and certainly we haven't seen the increased investments that we believe should be there.
"In fact, we [have] seen a going back on some of the promises," Ms.Capolingua said.
However, she welcomed the deal to allow midwives and doctors to work as a team, but cautioned that allowing nurses access to the Pharmaceuticals Benefit Scheme (PBS) could increase costs.