Health boost welcome but prevention still missing

While the additional $500 million in Federal funding to strengthen and reform primary care in the community is welcome, the Government needs to put more focus on preventive health measures which could deliver great health benefits at modest cost, the Consumers Health Forum says.

Responding to health spending measures in MYEFO today, the CEO of the Consumers Health Forum, Leanne Wells, said that it was encouraging that the Government had targeted more funding for care in the community and for its Health Care Homes trial.

“We support these hints of a move away from the hospital-centric orthodoxy. The development of initiatives such as the Health Care Homes and increased support for care in the community of people with chronic and complex conditions will help to integrate and improve care,” Ms Wells said.

“The Minister has sought to respond to issues and needs in numerous areas of health including in treatments for eating disorders, obstetric MRIs, veterans’ medical benefits and telehealth for drought-affected rural people.

“However the incidence of so many chronic conditions like obesity, cancer, heart disease and diabetes could be reduced through strong and effective preventive health programs that would embed healthier diets and lifestyles from earlier in life.

“We have witnessed the community-wide benefits that can flow from encouraging life-enhancing changes like wearing seat belts, reducing drink-driving and quitting tobacco. 

“A survey by the Australian Prevention Partnership Centre found a majority said the government had not gone far enough in restricting advertising of unhealthy foods to children, setting salt limits on processed food and putting health ratings on packaged food. Although most people thought personal responsibility for health was important, it did not preclude a role for government in helping people stay healthy.

“Australia has often led the way on these fronts. We can do the same in bringing down our disturbingly high rates of obesity for the benefit of our physical and economic health.

“The Government’s increased investment in primary health care would be even further strengthened if it was extended to integrate projects and services for long term and sustainable community-based education, promotion of healthy living and patient chronic disease self-management.

“The continued funding for the Health Care Homes trial aimed at supporting GPs through a reformed payment system to lead health teams administering coordinated care to those with chronic conditions is showing early promise.

A shift away from the current rigid fee-for-service arrangements to funding arrangements that unlock the potential for comprehensive, coordinated, team-based services should be a priority so that all Australians can benefit from a modernised Medicare.

“The fee for service system under Medicare needs to be reformed to spur more flexible and responsive care including bundled and blended payments for team-based care, telemedicine and skype consultations.

“The Government’s new $1.3 billion Community Health and Hospitals Program over four years, if it opens scope for communities to bid for locally-focused and sustainable projects, offers potential for bottom up initiatives, better reflecting community needs and priorities.

“The $550 million increase in funding for aged care to increase availability of places and reduce fees in some cases provides some respite for a sector that is under strain.

“For younger Australians, the boost for Primary Health Networks to commission youth mental health services from the headspace network, responds to the growing demand for such services --- a need also identified by the national Youth Health Forum, initiated by the Consumer Health Forum recently,” Ms Wells said.



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