Election 2013: A comparison of health policies

Election 2013: A comparison of health policies

Health is one of the biggest federal budget items but unusually, health policies have not featured heavily in this election campaign.

Labor is promising to continue rolling out its health reform package if it's returned to office, and to provide free dental care services for millions of Australians.


The Coalition is promising more money for frontline services and no cuts to existing funds.


Thea Cowie looks at how the main parties' policies stack up.



Since 2011 the Labor government has been rolling out its national health reform program which would see the Commonwealth share of hospital funding increase to 50 per cent over time.


Labor says the reform program is providing better access to services, improved local transparency and responsiveness, and a secure financial future for health services.


The Coalition has been critical of Labor's program, and says more money needs to be spent on frontline services.


Opposition leader Tony Abbott has pledged not to shut down of the nation's 61 Medicare Local centres but his health spokesman Peter Dutton says they would be reviewed by a Coalition government.


"The commitment that we've made is to make sure that money is being spent on frontline services. Now there are some Medicare Locals doing some amazing work around the country there are others that frankly have failed their local communities. And that's on the advice of the Medicare Local people themselves that come to see us."


Mr Dutton says the Coalition would also review a range of agencies that fall under the Australian National Preventive Health Agency.


He says they employ thousands of people who don't actually see any patients.


Health Minister Tanya Plibersek has challenged Mr Dutton to reveal exactly what a Coalition government would cut.


"The sort of agencies that Peter's talking about are the National Blood Authority, the Organ and Tissue Donation Authority, the National Health Funding Pool which you actually need if you're going do activity based funding which the Liberals' policy says they wish to do. So Peter needs to be very specific about which agencies he wants to close and which jobs aren't going to get done in the future."


The most expensive single item promised this campaign is Labor's 4.1-billion dollar dental reform package which would see millions of children, low-income and rural patients receive free dental care.


Labor says the program would slash waiting lists and make it as easy for children to go to the dentist as it for them to see a doctor.


The Coalition has said it would improve and restore dental services through Medicare as soon as it possible could.


On mental health, Labor says it would continue to roll out its $2.2 billion mental health package announced in 2011.


The Coalition is promising to spend $18 million establishing the country's first National Centre for Excellence in Youth Mental Health and would task the National Mental Health Commission with reviewing the system.


The Coalition says it would not be cutting existing spending commitments on health services over the next four years.


Opposition leader Tony Abbott says Australia has an outstanding health system which only needs incremental change and not a shake-up.


"I don't say our health system is perfect. No system is perfect. Our health system is always a work in progress. But by the standards of other countries Australia does have an outstandingly good health system. It's relatively well funded. We get good value for money because of the cost effectiveness tests which are at the heart of our system and we have truly outstanding health professionals at every level."


The Coalition would, however, change the way medicines on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme are listed.


The Labor government has a policy of letting the Health Minister have the final say on whether or not to list drugs costing the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme more than $10 million a year.


The Coalition says medicines would instead be listed on the basis of the independent Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee.


Significant Coalition spending promises include $200 million on efforts to find a cure for dementia, $119 million to double the incentive for GPs to train doctors, $46 million for National Bowel Cancer Screening and $35 million to find a cure for Type 1 diabetes.


Some of Labor's additional promises include a $250 million investment fund to boost regenerative medicine and research, $50 million to improving care for stroke patients, and $15 million for Cancer Care Nurse Coordinators.


Health Minister Tanya Plibersek claims Labor is the clear winner when it comes to healthcare.


"The best chance that people have of a decent health care system is always under Labor. We introduced Medicare: we had to introduce it twice because the Liberal government destroyed it the first time. The bulk-billing rates are at historic highs now. Visits to GPs are 82 per cent bulk-billed. When Tony Abbott was Health Minister it was 67 per cent."


One of the big differences between Labor and Coalition health policies relates to private health insurance.


Labor has introduced means-testing for the private health insurance rebate, while the Opposition says it would axe that restriction as soon as it responsibly can.


The Coalition is also pledging to sell off the Commonwealth's wholly-owned Medibank Private health insurer.


The Australian Greens' health promises would cost $9 billion.


They include universal access to publicly-funded primary dental care, a boost to front-line mental health services, a big investment in hospitals, and more funds for dementia research.

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