When I arrived last night for a meeting with Federal MP Mal Brough, I had to work my way through TV camera crews to get to my chair.
But Brough didn’t come to challenge the prime-minister. The meeting with local hospital doctors, GPs and staff was about health reform and the Medicare rebate – and what he had to say was remarkable.
I was expecting the usual: Budget crisis, rising Medicare costs, price signals etc. But this was a different message coming from a liberal MP.
Brough first showed some figures comparing (combined commonwealth and state) hospital expenditure versus GP Medicare rebates: $39.9 billion vs $5.9 billion per year. He demonstrated that hospital costs are rapidly rising but GP Medicare rebates remain more or less static.
His 3 core messages made sense to me:
1. This must be a debate on improving the health of the nation, not a debate on cost cutting or cost shifting
2. A co-payment or price point should not be the starting point of this discussion
3. There are tremendous efficiencies to be had in hospital, specialist services and aged care if Primary Health provision is enhanced and is the heart of the nation’s health system.
Health organisations are hammering this message: If you want to keep patients out of our expensive hospitals, strengthen general practice – don’t take money out of the industry.
Brough underlined this by showing AIHW data indicating that already over one-third of emergency department presentations were for potentially avoidable GP-type presentations (see image). A GP co-payment will almost certainly drive more traffic to the hospital EDs.
Mal Brough’s suggestion: Scrap it.
The audience was excited and so was I. Let’s bring on the real health debate.