Browsing articles in "Health"
Wednesday 27th January 2016 - 12:29 pm
Comments Off on Prices:up with smokes

Prices:up with smokes

by Alan Thornhill

Sharp rises in the price or tobacco and domestic holiday travel pushed Australia’s inflation rate up by 0.4 per cent in the final three months of last year to 1.7 per cent for the year.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics, which published these figures today, said the 7.4 per cent rise in tobacco prices, which occurred in the December quarter, was largely a flow-on from a rise in Federal excise.

The Bureau also reported that Australia’s inflation – on the trimmed mean estimate – which is closer to that the Reserve Bank uses when reviewing interest rates – rose by 2.1 per cent last year.

However the Bureau’s latest figures are not expected to have much impact on Australia’s interest rates, which are already at historically low levels.

Australia’s inflation rates, measured on the CPI, rose slightly on the latest figures.

The CPI had risen by 0.5 per cent in the September quarter and 1.5 per cent in the 12 months to the end of September.

The Bureau said the rise in tobacco prices and domestic holiday prices, in the final three months of last year, had outweighed a 1.4  fall in transport costs, due largely to lower oil and fuel prices.

It reported, also, that the price of recreation and culture rose by 5.5per cent last year, while health costs rose 5.3 per cent.













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Monday 18th January 2016 - 12:12 pm
Comments Off on Cost cutting “at the expense of the sick”

Cost cutting “at the expense of the sick”

by Alan Thornhill


Community nurses, who  knock gently on patients’ doors, across Australia, save taxpayers millions of dollars each year.

They do that by treating the sick in the comfort of their own homes, when they might otherwise, have to be in hospital.

The costs of providing a hospital bed now rival those that come with booking a luxurious room in one of the best hotels in town.

Our home nurses have been able to do this because community nursing, has  traditionally been supported by adequate, reliable government subsidies.

That has now changed.

A budget conscious Federal government – driven by its  perceived need to save money – has been lifting all rocks and rugs as it tries to cut costs.

Some $80 million has been trimmed from health and education spending alone.

So community nursing services have seen their once reliable subsidy money flow instead to big rivals.

Even though they say, those big organisations  don’t understand their patients as well as their own small, locally based, ones.

They are not alone.

Other, often small community organisations, have been affected, too.

The  NSW Spanish and Latin American Association was among them.

It has had two programs, which provided valuable services in the Fairfield area, defunded, in this cost cutting drive,

They had helped migrants with settlement expenses, in this poor suburb, and guided them towards healthy ageing.

These community based organisations, too, had proved their worth,by helping their clients who often had difficulties with English, keep their health, and stay out of expensive mental institutions.

So were these original subsidies  wise spending, like the costs of car maintenance, or examples of conspicuous consumption, that might well be cut?.

That, essentially, is the question that the Senate Community Affairs committee has been studying.

The opposition has not been slow to suggest that the government chose to release the committee’s final report last Friday, just as the holiday season drew to a close, reflects the fact that it has something to hide in this matter.

They might well be right.

Yes, Virginia, our politicians do behave like that, at times.

The committee, itself, was blunt in its assessment of what it saw as government failures in this area.

The first of the 12 recommendations, in its final report was that the Department of Social Services must publish its recent analysis of “delivery gaps” to promote transparency and to encourage informed discussion “of a strategy that assures vulnerable people are properly supported right across Australia with no gaps.”

In Canberra, that is very tough talk, indeed.

So tough that Coalition Senators, on this committee,  felt impelled to publish a dissenting report, defending the government’s record.

So this debate is far from over.

Until it is, we will keep hearing, harsh words, like those of Labor’s Senator Carol Brown, echoing around the edges of this debate.

Senator Brown, who is Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Families and Payments, said arrangements for funding these valuable services, had now become “utterly shamboilic,” resulting in the “needless” closure of “hundreds of services.”




Monday 21st December 2015 - 5:17 pm
Comments Off on Those who will miss Christmas

Those who will miss Christmas

by Alan Thornhill

Many Australians will miss Friday’s festivities

They – and their families – are facing an austere Christmas
I speak, of course, of the nation’s unemployed.
And the fact that Christmas will occur on Friday this week.
The Statistician tells us that on the latest available – seasonally adjusted – figures 739,100 Australians
were unemployed in November.
But they are not the only ones affected by unemployment.

Their families are as well.



Even the local shopkeepers, if they don’t buy as much as they usually would.
A graph that the Bureau of Statistics produced in August shows the total number of job vacancies available in Australia falling sharply as the 21st Century entered its teenage years.

Then they rose steadily over the following years.
These patterns suggest that the unemployed are taking advantage of job vacancies, as they appear.
That is confirmed by other figures the Bureau has produced.

These showed that 800,700 Australians were unemployed in July this year.

The nation’s unemployment rate back then was 6.3 per cent.

By November, it had fallen to 5.8 per cent.

Wednesday 16th December 2015 - 9:45 am
Comments Off on Co-payments “by stealth” what they could cost

Co-payments “by stealth” what they could cost

by Alan Thornhill

Could your lifespan be affected by something as arcane as a mini-budget?


That’s putting the question a little bluntly, perhaps.


But quite a number of clever people apparently think so.


The President of the AMA. ,Brian Owler , is among them.


But let’s start at the beginning.


The Australian Medical Association is making no secret of its distress at cuts to health payments announced in last night’s mini-budget.


Critics say they add up more than $650 million.


And the Sydney Morning Herald reports that cuts to incentive payments, made to pathologists, to encourage bulk billing, have come in for particularly sharp criticism.


Critics are calling this the re-introduction of  “co-payments by stealth.”


The government dismisses that charge.


But many doctors fear some people will avoid potentially life-saving procedures, like early screening for cancer, if that involves a fee.


And Mr Owler said the policy would increase costs for Australians, particularly the sickest and poorest patients.


The situation behind all this is a little complicated.


But the SMH, as always, describes it succinctly.


It says:”The incentive payments introduced by Labor in 2009-10 were hoped to maximise the numbers of patients receiving free services.


“The pathology incentive meant providers were given an extra $1.40 to $3.40 per patient.


“The diagnostic imaging incentive payment was 10 per cent of the set Medicare fee for each service, with the exception of MRI procedures which attracted a 15 per cent subsidy.”
The newspaper also quotes the Health Minister, Sussan Ley, saying that the incentives have not worked.


Ms Ley said the pathology incentive, which had cost taxpayers half a billion dollars since 2009-10, did not work, with bulk billing rates increasing just 1 per cent during that time.”


The government is confident that public health won’t be affected by the measure it announced last night.


It believes that competitive pressures in the pathology industry – made up of more than 5000 pathology collection centres – will ensure that high rates of bulk billing will continue.

Tuesday 15th December 2015 - 6:32 pm
Comments Off on Mini-budget takes “safe road” to surplus:Treasurer

Mini-budget takes “safe road” to surplus:Treasurer

by Alan Thornhill

The Federal Treasurer, Scott Morrison, insisted that he is taking Australians on “the safe road” to a balanced budget when he published his Mid Year Economic and Financial Outlook document today.

However he admitted that the nation will still face deficits of $37. 4billion in 2015-16, $33.7 billion in 2016-17, $23 billion in 2017-18, and $14.2b in 2018-19.


Mr Morrison said the journey to budget balance needed to be “safe and careful” with the expected date of a return to surplus pushed back another year to 2020-21.

Using the metaphor of the Christmas car trip, he said he expected a lot of Australians to ask  “are we there yet?”.


“We need to take a safe and careful route and one (that) does not put at risk our jobs and growth,” he said.


The government has announced extra spending on its humanitarian program since its May budget.


Its decision to permanently accept an extra12,000 refugees from Syria and Iraq , in particular, will cost $158 million in 2015-16, and $909 million over four years to 2018-19.

Offsetting savings were announced in today’s mini budget.

These will include removing bulk-billing for pathology services and reducing bulk-billing for diagnostic imaging services and MRI services.

This will reduce spending by $197 million in 2016-17 and by $639 million over four years to 2018-19.



There will also be cuts to childcare.

These will include reducing the childcare subsidy for families earning more than $250,000 a year.

Friday 11th December 2015 - 6:44 pm
Comments Off on Tax talks bog down

Tax talks bog down

by Alan Thornhill

Consensus on tax reform proved elusive when the Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull met State premiers and Territory leaders  in Sydney today.

The State and Territory leaders went into the meeting of the Council of Australian governments seeking reversal of the $80 billion cuts to their health and education spending that flowed, ultimately, from the unpopular 2014 Federal budget.



Mr Turnbull, for his part, was seeking more stable revenue flows, as the mining boom subsided.



That led to the Federal Treasurer, Scott Morrison, ordering the Federal Treasury to model the likely impact of possible changes, including several that would include a higher Goods and Services Tax.



Although the Opposition has been warning that Mr Turnbull wants to impose a 15 per cent GST on “everything” in place of the present 10 per cent, a 12.5 per cent rate is now starting to look more likely.



But the Coalition remains determined to curb the big Federal deficits it inherited from its Labor predecessor,


Mr Turnbull opened today’s meeting by thanking the Premiers and Territory leaders for what he called “very collaborative discussion we had last night.”
He said:“We all understand that Australia’s economy is transitioning from an enormous mining construction boom.”

And added:”We recognise that we’ve seen a high rise in our terms of trade and as was always going to happen that has now subsided.


I think we all recognise that to ensure our continued prosperity we do need to be more competitive, more productive and more innovative.




However the COAG leaders did agree to keep on examining options for tax reform.


They also accepted a March deadline on their discussions.



”Mr Turnbull said after today’s meeting “there are many different options.”

“There are many different approaches and… ultimately what we need is a tax system for the 21st century.”


The Tasmanian Premier, Will Hodgman, said he was looking forward to putting some concrete proposals on the table by the proposed deadline of March next year.
Mr Hodgman said his focus was not to increase the tax burden.
“We believe that the better and more appropriate approach is to ensure that we use this discussion, which also has a very important element of understanding the inefficiencies in our systems,” he said.

ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr said there are still some fundamental issues in the tax system that need to be addressed ahead of the looming deadline.

“Importantly, out of today was recognition from states and territories as well as the Commonwealth that this is a shared challenge,” Mr Barr said.

“But it’s one that the clock is ticking on and we can’t have another meeting like today in March.
“We have to start making decisions.”


Tuesday 8th December 2015 - 1:27 pm
Comments Off on We’re smoking and drinking less, but…

We’re smoking and drinking less, but…

by Alan Thornhill

We’re smoking and drinking less than we once did, but many Australians are still not getting enough exercise.


All this shows up in the results of a National Health Survey, which the Bureau of Statistics published today.


The Bureau reported that in 2014-15, over half – 56.2 per cent – of all Australians aged 15 years and over considered themselves to be in excellent or very good health.


However Another 14.8 per cent rated their health as fair or poor.


The bureau also reported that only 55.5 per cent of 18-64 year olds had participated in sufficient physical activity in the previous week.


That is more than 150 minutes of moderate physical activity or more than 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity.


And it said nearly one in three – 29.7 per cent – were not sufficiently active.


We made more progress in cutting our smoking.


The Bureau said rates of daily smoking had.continued to drop, to 14.5 per cent,  or 2.6 million, Australians smoking in 2014-15.


That was down from 16.1 per cent in 2011-12 and 22.4 per cent in 2001.


In 2014-15, 17.4 per cent of adults consumed more than the recommended two standard drinks per day on average, exceeding the National Health and Medical Research Council lifetime risk guidelines,


That was down from 19.5 per cent in 2011-12.

Sunday 6th December 2015 - 9:46 pm
Comments Off on Climate:advice from our neighbours

Climate:advice from our neighbours

by Alan Thornhill

As you read this, a delegation of Australian politicians will be flying out to the Pacific to meet local islanders


Steven Ciobo, the Minister for International Development and the Pacific, who will be leading the group, said it would be visiting Fiji, Tonga, Samoa and Solomon Islands.
He said the delegation would be observing the outcome of Australia’s aid and investment in the region.
Its aim would be to strengthen Australia’s relations with its Pacific neighbours.
But that’s only half of the story.
Members of the delegation may well find themselves spending more time listening than they expect.
Australian aid is welcomed – and highly valued – in the Pacific.
But that has never meant that it is above criticism.
One senior Pacific politician, for example, liked to talk about what he called “boomerang aid.”.


His point was that too much of the money that Australia sets aside, to help the people of the Pacific, actually ends up in the pockets of Australian aid workers, instead.


So who is going on this trip, for Australia?


Mr Ciobo said the members of the bi-partisan delegation he is leading are Nola Marino the Chief Government Whip, Jane Prentice, the Federal Member for Ryan, Sharon Claydon the Federal Member for Newcastle and NSW Senator, Deborah O’Neill.
These are serious people doing an important job, in Mr Ciobo’s view.


As he says:“the delegation underlines the strength and breadth of support in Australia for closer relations with our region.”
That declaration will be welcomed in the Pacific.



Tongans, in particular, often feel their geographically isolated position in the world very keenly.


So they won’t be allowing these Australian politicians to fly back home without knowing how they see the great issues of the day.
And for Pacific Islanders, no issue is greater than climate change.


For they know, all too well, that if rising sea temperatures, cause the Antarctic ice sheet to melt, many of the beautiful islands they call home, would simply disappear beneath the sea.
The BBC reports that World leaders, meeting in Paris last week, approved a draft text they hope will form the basis of an agreement to curb global carbon emissions.
The 48-page document will be discussed by ministers today.
They will try to arrive at a comprehensive settlement on outstanding issues this month,
Some of them will be tricky.
The French climate ambassador has warned that major political differences still need to be resolved.
Delegates from 195 countries worked through the night at the conference centre in Le Bourget, conscious of a Saturday deadline imposed by the French president.


The aim now is to turn this draft text into a long-term agreement.


And although they are on the other side of the world, Pacific Islanders are determined to make their voices heard, in support of that objective.


With good reason.



They have already seen what can go wrong, when many people feel compelled to leave home, for whatever reason.



These include civil war.


That’s what happened in the Solomon Islands, when 30,000 islanders from Malaita took to the sea in canoes, intending to settle on the island of Guadalcanal.
That gave the world an early glimpse of what the results of large population movements can be.
So Australia – and the world – have good reason to press  their climate change negotiators for a tight agreement.


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Alan Thornhill

Alan Thornhill is a parliamentary press gallery journalist.
Private Briefing is updated daily with Australian personal finance news, analysis, and commentary.

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