In growing opposition to Federal Budget health measures, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health leaders met in Canberra today for crisis talks about the implications of last week’s Federal Budget and have called for proposed GP and other co-payments to be scrapped, saying they risk widening the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous health. See their statement below.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Mick Gooda today also wrote about his concerns about the Budget, saying changes to benefits for young unemployed people could have a devastating effect on young Indigenous people and that GP co-payments are “another cause of great anxiety”. See his article for The Drum.
Health Minister Peter Dutton later released a statement in response to concerns about Indigenous health, saying:
“Given the amount of money being administered by Indigenous health services I am keen to get a better understanding of the concerns being raised and of how the funding is being translated into front-line support.”
“It is important to be clear as to why organisations believe they would not be able to provide services for those most in need. I will be keen to see the analysis of where the funding is being spent.”
In another move, a campaign is being led by Professor Fran Baum, professor of public health from Flinders University and PhD student Clare Phillips, against both the GP co-payments and the use of those payments to largely fund a new $20 billion medical research fund. The campaign – titled No GP Tax in our name! – says:
Medical and public health researchers who work day in and day out to cure disease and keep us healthy should not be used as an excuse to undermine Medicare and penalise the poor. And researchers should not have to face the prospect that their funding may come at the cost of reducing services to those who need them most.
See more details below.
Aboriginal health leaders wrote:
“The Aboriginal community sector will not agree to turn our backs on the most disadvantaged and disempowered.
“A coalition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations calls on the Australian Government to recognise that a co-payment is against the principles of health equity outlined in the Statement of Intent to Close the Gap in Indigenous Health Outcomes.
“The suggested co-payments run counter to the findings of the World Health Organisation’s Commission on the Social Determinants of Health. Australia’s health policies and funding should reflect those findings.
“Introducing co-payments will not serve to close the gap in health outcomes; it will only widen the gap between our people and the rest of the community.
“We reject the introduction of co-payments because they will increase inequality.
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people already experience considerable health disadvantage
- for every dollar spent on non-Indigenous Australians now, only 60 cents is spent on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people
- international evidence confirms the most efficient way to contain health care costs is a robust universal primary health care system
- the sustainability of Australia’s robust not for profit health sector, which currently supports the most vulnerable in our community, is threatened by this move.
Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services and Aboriginal Medical Services:
- are the regular source of care for persons without social capital
- are an embodiment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander self-determination
- represent a sound investment in not only health outcomes, but economic participation, employment and education for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people; the health industry is the single largest employer of Indigenous Australians.
“We are calling for an immediate scrapping of the MBS and PBS co-payments scheme.
“The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health sector will not agree to turn our backs on the needy, disadvantaged and desperate.
“We welcome the opportunity to have further constructive conversations with government. We call on our partners, colleagues and all concerned Australians to stand with us at this critical time,” concluded Ms Tongs.
The statement is signed by:
Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (VACCHO), Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance Northern Territory (AMSANT), Lowitja Institute, National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO), Winnunga Nimmityjah Aboriginal Health Service, National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Worker Association (NATSIHWA), Australian Indigenous Doctors Association (AIDA), National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples, Queensland Aboriginal and Islander Health Council (QAIHC) and Aboriginal Health Council of South Australia. The Public Health Association of Australia also attended.
Fran Baum and Clare Phillips write:
In response to the Federal Budget we are launching a campaign called:
‘No GP Tax in our name!’
The campaign asks Australian health and medical researchers and all concerned citizens to take a stand against the Australian Government’s decision to fund medical research through the new GP Tax.
We are calling in the Australian Government to fund health and medical research through a universal, progressive and FAIR tax.
The campaign is being launched by a group of medical and public health researchers from across the nation because while we obviously think health and medical research is vital and that public good research should receive public funding, we also believe that funding should come from a universal, progressive and fair tax. This should include income tax, company tax and other progressive forms of taxation, thus sharing the load according to capacity to pay.
The idea of taxing people who go to the GP and then holding them to ransom by saying the GP tax will be used to fund medical research is unethical. Seven dollars for each visit to a GP is already a real impost on poor people but what will they think of medical and health researchers when the Treasurer has said that $5 of that fee will go to medical research? It really is blackmail – pay the GP tax or else there will be no more medical and health research in Australia. In former Australian of the year Professor Fiona Stanley’s words, the co-payments “will affect those who are the sickest, most marginalised, the poorest”. Are these the people who should be funding research?
As medical and public health researchers we do not want to be used by the government as an excuse to undermine Medicare and penalise the poor. We also don’t want to face the prospect that health and medical research funding may come at the cost of reducing services to those who need them most.
We need research that promotes health and reduces the burden of disease, especially research that is concerned with preventing disease and promoting health which won’t attract commercial funding. We don’t need a hastily thought out scheme that links a GP tax to research income and effectively penalises those who are sick and disadvantaged. We can afford to be a compassionate country which cares for all its citizens and funds universal free-at the point of use health services.
Fran Baum is Director of the Southgate Institute for Health Society and Equity at Flinders University. Clare Phillips is a PhD Student at Southgate.