Election health debate fires up over funding

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The election debate over health funding is heating up with Labor pledging another $200 million for pathology tests while the Coalition has questioned the budgeting of its $2.3 billion cancer package and commitment to increasing public hospital funding.

Leader Bill Shorten will announce that, if elected at the 18 May election, Labor will guarantee pathology tests are free for cancer patients and senior Australians. The commitment will provide an additional $200 million to cover the cost of around 23 million pathology tests.

This latest announcement from Labor follows its $2.3 billion cancer package, aimed at reducing patient out-of-pocket costs, and commitment to boost public hospital funding by $2.8 billion over the years to 2025.  

"As part of the Better Hospitals Fund, Labor will negotiate a new agreement with the states and territories to deliver more funding for public hospitals," said shadow health minister Catherine King, adding it will see the Commonwealth increase its share of public hospital funding to 50 per cent.

The Coalition has questioned the commitment, given it will not see the Commonwealth reach the 50 per cent figure until 2024, and accused Labor of under-estimating the cost of its cancer package.

Using an analysis prepared by the Department of Health, health minister Greg Hunt said the cost of eliminating all out-of-pocket costs related to cancer treatment over the next four years would go close to $6 billion, not the $2.3 billion claimed by Labor.

However, the Department of Health analysis was based on increasing rebates for all Medicare item numbers related to cancer treatment, while Labor's commitment is limited to certain item numbers related to diagnostic imaging, medical and radiation oncologists, as well as surgeons.