AMA wants 'big picture plan' for Australia's health system

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AMA president Dr Tony Bartone says the federal government should work on a "big picture plan" for Australia's health system that deals with the ageing population and rise in chronic illness and complex disease.

Dr Bartone called for the plan during an address to the National Press Club in Canberra yesterday.

“Two months on from the election, the need for significant health reform remains – and it must still be the Government's highest priority,” he said.

“Our world class health system is simply groaning under enormous and ever-increasing stress. Underfunding, under-resourcing, poor access, waste, inequity, and inefficiency are commonplace.

“From maternity services to primary care, prevention to public hospitals, private health insurance to the Medicare Benefits Schedule, mental health care to Indigenous health to aged care, there are problems everywhere.

“All the parts are connected. You can’t just fix one and ignore the others. Our population is growing rapidly. It is ageing and the mix of disease is becoming increasingly more chronic and complex."

On private health insurance, Dr Bartone said the "unique balance between the public and private sectors makes the Australian health system one of the best in the world."

"Just as we need to ensure our public hospitals are funded and supported appropriately, the Government must ensure that the private health sector remains efficient, robust, and productive," he said.

"There have been 15 successive quarters of decreasing coverage despite a comprehensive Government review and the transition to the new policy structure.

"But the situation is even worse than these figures portray.

"There is a reality that we must all face here right in front of us.

"We see increases in premiums averaging 3 to 5 per cent a year, when wages growth is firmly stuck at around 2 per cent."

The AMA president said a continued fall in the number of Australians with private health insurance would mean the "burden would then fall calamitously on the already stressed public system."

"We are truly on the precipice of the possible demise of a system that provides for the majority of elective surgery in Australia," he said.

He said further reform of private health insurance should address indexation of rebates, variation in rebates, and insurer contracts.

Dr Bartone said the AMA supports and actively encourages full transparency of doctors’ fees.

"We unreservedly condemn egregious billing, which occurs in a very small percentage of cases," he said, but added the government's proposed fees website should also list what patients can expect back from Medicare and their private health insurance insurer.

"Patients want to know what their out-of-pocket cost will be for a health procedure. A website that only shows doctors’ fees cannot deliver this outcome," he said.