The human mind, our fundamental resource

Scrap the cap

Visionary leaders around the world have reminded us on many occasions about the importance of education. Nelson Mandela said: “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” And John F Kennedy put it this way: “Our progress as a nation can be no swifter than our progress in education. The human mind is our fundamental resource.”

In an unprecedented move the Australian Government has decided to introduce a new tax rule that will affect professional self-education. I’m afraid this will have a big, long-lasting impact on quality and safety of patient care.

The problem

The government will put a cap of $2000 on tax deductions for continuous compulsory and non-compulsory self-education. I’m not sure policy makers realise this barely covers one medical conference or course.

Another concerning issue is that practice owners and employers will be liable for fringe benefit tax if they pay for education of their employees.

Patient care at risk

Most medical courses are not delivered to our front doors. Travelling hundreds and sometimes 1000’s kilometres for schooling isn’t my favourite pastime. Closing the practice, no service to patients, no income, sometimes hiring a locum doctor, flights, hotels, expensive training and time away from our families is not something doctors do for fun.

As a result of the new tax rule I may have to skip some of the national conferences where doctors discuss the latest developments. I will certainly give the expensive international conferences a miss, and won’t be bringing back new knowledge or skills into the country. I may have to cancel my subscriptions to professional organisations, medical journals and electronic online resources. If Australian health professionals will make similar decisions – and they most likely will – our quality healthcare system will collapse like a house of cards.

This must be reversed

So expect less quality. Expect less bulk billing – to cover some of the education and other expenses. Expect more unnecessary specialist and hospital referrals. The government is winding down one of the best health services in the world, and pushing up costs at the same time.

As the AMA said: “(…) a $2000 a year cap on the tax deductibility of work related self-education expenses for genuine professional development is bad policy – it is anti-education, it is anti-quality health care, and it stifles excellence. It must be reversed.”

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