Whose health policy is the best medicine?

medicareLabor has promised to boost funding for public health, while the Coalition has not revealed the detail of its health policy.

Labor has guaranteed additional health funding of more than $16 billion per year while the Coalition has made no funding promises for the health system.

The Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF) asked the major parties: “What will your party do to improve funding/reform of the health system?”

Labor replied: “Labor has provided unprecedented additional funding of public hospitals with $14.9 billion in 2013-14 and guaranteed additional funding of over $16 billion per year over the period 2014-15 to 2019-20.”

The Liberal Party replied: “The Coalition is committed not only to providing additional resources for health and hospitals, but to direct action to provide better models of care and alleviate pressure on our public hospitals.”

It added, “Full details of the Coalition’s health policy will be released prior to the election.”

The Coalition had not released a detailed health policy when this election issue of The Lamp went to press, just weeks prior to the federal election.

The Greens said an effective health care system “depends on a well-skilled and well-resourced workforce” and pledged support for “the re-direction of funds that currently subsidise private health insurance, back into the public health system.”

The ANMF also asked: “Will your party work towards maintaining the newly established e-Health system that enhances patient care?”

Labor said it had provided funding for e-Health in the 2012-13 budget while the Liberal Party answered: “We will work with health providers and the business sector generally to build our e-Health capacity on a sustainable basis.”

The parties were asked if they would preserve preventative health services such as Breast Screen and drug and alcohol services.

Labor said it had committed $56 million to expand the target age range for Breast Screen by five years, increased funding of $16 million for the national bowel cancer screening program, and promised to preserve funding for drug and alcohol services.

The Coalition said it “continues to strongly support evidence-based preventive health measures and screening initiatives including BreastScreen, cervical cancer screening and bowel cancer screening.”

It said it “supports appropriate and effective drug and alcohol treatment programs” and claimed its 1997, Tough on Drugs, policy had reduced illicit drug use.

The Greens said they would rather see money redirected from drug law enforcement to “more effective patient based, health focused” drug and alcohol expenditure.

The ANMF asked: “Will you commit to maintaining and extending the Mental Health Nurse Incentive Program?”

Labor pointed to its current budget, which gives the MHNIP an additional $22.4 million. Funding would be maintained “at 2012-13 service levels” while the government considered the findings of a 2012 evaluation report in consultation with stakeholders.

“This additional funding will make sure existing eligible organisations and nurses can maintain client service levels, and continue to make claims to Medicare so patients receive the care they need. Organisations can continue to accept new patients into the program and engage new nurses, as long as the overall service levels of the organisation are maintained,” Labor added.

The Greens also promised support for the MHNIP, however the Liberal Party made no reference to the program. It claimed the Coalition had “a very strong record on mental health” and said: “We will continue to work closely with the sector and the National Mental Health Commission on the challenges that lie ahead.”

Earlier statements by the Coalition have cast doubt on the future of Medicare Locals, which the Labor government established to coordinate primary health care delivery.

Coalition health spokesman Peter Dutton has promised a “formal review” of Medicare Locals.

The review’s first term of reference is to “Recognise general practice as the cornerstone of primary care in the governance structures.”

The Coalition has also promised to privatise Medibank Private.

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Where the parties stand on health policies

Labor

Has cut the private health insurance rebate – which took back from high wage earners to put back into the public health system – while guaranteeing increased funding for public hospitals. Has overseen increases in bulk billing rates.

Has invested $4 billion over six years in a new dental scheme to treat low-income patients including pensioners, concession cardholders and children of poor families.

Has expanded mental health services.

Coalition

Will “review” Medicare Locals and privatise Medibank Private.

Has promised to restore the private health insurance rebate but has not said when.

Wants to give hospital boards more control.

Greens

Got Labor to agree to a Medicare-funded dental scheme in return for their support of Labor in government. The scheme applies to 3.4 million children in families eligible for Family Tax Benefit A.

Want a stronger focus on preventive health, including a ban on junk food advertising during children’s television, improved food labelling and tougher restrictions on drug company promotions to doctors