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A vision for our health system

Thought Plus
21 Jul 2013

The September federal election is a fresh opportunity for political parties to outline their policy prescription for one of the nation’s great socio-economic challenges – paying for our ever-rising health costs. 

At Australian Unity, we know how critical this issue is to our collective future. The health system is trying to cope with an increasingly large proportion of over 65s, whose average annual health costs are four times those of someone under this age. This is exacerbated by the rising expectations of all of us about the health services we expect to be able to access. 

To service this burgeoning demand, more health infrastructure will be needed. According to the Federal Government’s 2010 Intergenerational Report, health spending is expected to nearly double over the next 40 years – from 4 percent of GDP in 2009/10 to 7.1 percent of GDP in 2049/50 – and will account for more than two-thirds of the overall increase in national spending over that time. 

The health workforce will need to grow at an even faster pace. Over the past 10 years – during the biggest mining boom in a century – the mining sector has created an average 17,000 additional jobs per year, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics. But over the same period, the health and social assistance sector has created an average increase of 46,000 jobs per year. With many of these skilled workers having to be sourced from overseas, health policy runs into immigration policy. 

Australian Unity believes real vision is needed. There is no sign yet that the major political parties are prepared to move beyond the current formula for health expenditure – attempting to pay for these big structural changes with cyclical revenues that are dependent on the fortunes of our natural resources and commodities sector. It is unsustainable. 

Health policy is a fertile ground for political point scoring. And in the coming months, both sides will look to blame each other for the rising hip-pocket costs of health. Given their responsibility for hospitals, state governments can also be the subjects of finger-pointing. 

On behalf of our members and customers, Australian Unity is urging the Federal Government to take a long-term view on health reform to deal with the momentous demographic changes that will take place over the coming decades. 

Australian Unity is urging the Federal Government to take a long-term view on health reform ahead of this year’s election.