by Alan Thornhill
Labor says the governmwent’s mooted $6 fee, to visit a local doctor, could triple waiting times in emergency departments – and boost health costs by $2 billion.
The Shadow Minister for Health, Catherine King, says those calculations have been made by the South Australian Department of Health.
Ms King said it appears that everyone, except the Health Minister, Peter Dutton, “understands that primary care is at the cheaper end of Australia’s healthcare system.”
“The whole point of providing universal access to GPs is to detect medical conditions before they materialise into something more serious,” Ms King said.
“ Preventing access to GPs will only lead to Australians becoming more unwell at a much greater cost to the health system overall.”
“This proposed tax is about much more than a six dollar fee,” Ms King said.
“It is the first step in the Abbott Government’s attempt to dismantle Medicare and create a two-tiered health system in Australia.”
Ms King said Australia spends much less – as a proportion of GDP on health – than many other developed countries.
That stands at 9.1 per cent in Australia.
“By contrast the United States spends 17 per cent of its GDP on healthcare.
“Privatising healthcare and restricting access to ‘those who can afford to pay more’ will lead to worse health outcomes for the entire population, at a greater cost to everybody,” Ms King said.
So far the government has not replied.
by Alan Thornhill
The Prime Minister made a firm declaration in support of Australia’s universal health care system, Medicare, today.
“I want this government…to be the best friend Medicare ever had,” Mr Abbott said.
But he refused to go into detail about possible changes.
Mr Abbott’s intervention followed a speech yesterday by his Health Minister, Peter Dutton.
That was seen as a signal that the government is planning to make big changes to Medicare.
Labor responded by warning that the the Federal government is planning to “dismantle” Medicare.
The Shadow Health Minister, Catherine King, based her accusation today on Mr Dutton’s speech.
Mr Dutton had suggested then that Australians who can afford to pay more for their health care should do so.
“Commonwealth and State governments contribute 92 cents in the dollar for those treated in the public system,” he said.
He said that is unsustainable and that the system should be modernised and strengthened.
“Therefore one important job of the Abbott government is to grow the opportunity for those Australians who can afford to do so to contribute to their own healthcare costs,” Mr Dutton said.
However Ms King took a different view.
“The introduction of a GP Tax will reduce access to doctors for all Australians, putting additional pressure on public hospitals and in particular emergency departments,” she said.
“This Government doesn’t believe in Medicare.
“It plans to introduce a GP Tax that will end bulk billing and privatise healthcare in a way that will lead to inequalities that Australia has never seen under Medicare,” Ms King said.
“Australia gets very good value out of our health system and pays a relatively low price for it compared to other OECD countries,” she added.
Australia spends 9.1 per cent of its gross domestic product on health compared to a 17 per cent in the United States, Ms King said.
by Alan Thornhill
Australian families suffered less crime in 2012-13 than they did five years ago, according to new figures released today by the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
The Bureau reported that the rates for crimes such as break-in, attempted break-in, malicious property damage and motor vehicle theft were all lower.
Its Director of the National Centre for Crime and Justice Statistics, William Milne said: “”physical assault and face-to-face threatened assault (rates) are also lower in the new findings.”
However, Mr Milne said women suffered from repeated physical assault more frequently than men.
He also said that alcohol – another substance – was considered by victims to be a contributing factor in 65 per cent of physical assaults.
“ Where a respondent’s most recent experience of physical assault occurred in a place of entertainment or recreation, 82 per cent of victims believed alcohol – another substance – contributed to the incident,” Mr Milne said.
by Alan Thornhill
The union representing the drivers who operate Australia’s petrol tankers says those vehicles have literally become “mobile bombs.”
The Transport Workers Union says that’s because of the pressures place on drivers.
The Union’s National Secretary, Tony Sheldon said new surveys show that 1 in 4 petrol tanker drivers are pressured to break the speed limit, 1 in 3 are pushed to falsify logbooks, and 1 in 2 skip rest breaks and drive while fatigued.
The union has filed notice of a dispute, to tackle these issues.
“Petrol tankers are literally mobile bombs,” Mr Sheldon said.
“They’re at the most dangerous end of Australia’s most dangerous industry.
“Yet industry research shows drivers forced to speed, skip rest breaks and fake their log books just to keep jobs.
“Tanker drivers are simply driving too long and too fast,” Mr Sheldon said.
“We’ve seen the consequences in crashes like Batemans Bay in 2009, and Mona Vale last year.
“Major petrol clients like Coles need to learn that road safety is not red tape,” Mr Sheldon said.
by Alan Thornhill
You can pay more for funeral insurance than your funeral would ultimately cost.
The corporate watchdog, the Australian Securities and Investments Commission, is warning consumers to take great care, when considering this kind of insurance.
In a statement today, ASIC said there are features of funeral insurance that can be particularly difficult for consumers to understand.
These include increasing premiums.
ASIC’s Deputy Chairman Peter Kell said premium payments can exceed the actual benefit to be paid out under the policy.”
The commission has been worried, too, by the way the industry advertises its products.
It fears that that some consumers may be misled about the advertised benefits.
“ It is important that funeral insurance ads create realistic consumer expectations, in particular about the cost of the product,” Mr Kell said.
ASIC is working with the industry to overcome these problems.
‘Designing funeral insurance policies with these types of consumer risks in mind is not only likely to provide significant benefits to consumers but also likely to result in clearer advertising messages,” he said.
Mr Kell said: “ASIC will continue its focus on funeral insurance and take steps to ensure that consumers understand funeral insurance products.”
The Commission gave an example of the issues it has encountered.
It said: “As part of its industry review, ASIC raised with TAL Direct Pty Limited (TAL), one of Australia’s largest providers of funeral insurance products under the brand ‘InsuranceLine’, its concerns regarding TAL’s advertising of funeral insurance.
ASIC was concerned that in TAL’s advertising of its funeral insurance product:
• premium increases and stepped premiums were not adequately disclosed or explained
• qualifications relating to advertised prices were not sufficiently prominent and
• quoted prices were not representative of the imagery used in the advertising, including the age of the actors.
by Alan Thornhill
Australia’s critically important services sector retreated last month, after lifting its performance in the wake of the Federal elections in September.
This is reflected in the results of the Performance of Services Index, produced by the Australian Industry Group.
These results, for the month of December, are worrying the group, which believes the service sector has a key role to play in rebalancing the Australian economy, as the mining investment boom fades.
The index shows that the sector’s performance fell 2.8 points last month to 46.1.
This is significant as readings below 50 represent contraction in activity and with the distance from 50 indicates the size of the fall.
The detailed results of this study are also disturbing, particularly as weakness in the job market is now affecting consumer confidence.
The employment indicator, in this study, fell to 47.7 points.
In other results, new orders (43.0) fell by 3.6 points and sales – while fractionally higher than in November at 47.7 – also remained below 50.
The group’s Chief Executive, Innes Willox said that: “While the Christmas rush did see retail trade record its strongest reading since April, rising by 2.4 points to 48.6, it also remained in the red.”
However the finance & insurance services (65.5) edged 0.9 points higher and was the strongest performing sub-sector, he added.
Mr Willox said “The December Australian PSI result stunted the green shoots that appeared following the federal election.
He said the services sector had retreated from the brink of recovery in December.
“While sales continued to claw back towards positive territory, both employment and new orders slipped further into the red.”
Mr Willox said this clouds “the tentative build in optimism that characterised the previous couple of months.
” Continuing weakness in the important services sector underlines the fragility o meet the challenge of rebalancing in the wake of the mining investment boom,” he warned.
by Alan Thornhill
Private health insurance will become even more expensive in the New year.
Yet it is an item most of us can’t afford to be without.
For several years now, the cost of private health insurance has now been rising faster than Australia’s general inflation rate.
And the Consumers Health Forum says it is now high time for these costs to be moderated.
It is urging both the Federal government and the medical profession to curb these rises.
It warns that Australian families face rises in health insurance premiums of $200 a year or more — an extra cost that will make many rethink the worth of private cover.
“This is an unhappy Christmas present for the many Australians who do struggle to meet the cost of health insurance which they see as an essential item to ensure that they get the health services they need when they need them,” says CHF spokesman, Mark Metherell.
“Rising health costs and insurance premiums have become a vicious circle.
“The average 6.2 per cent increase in premiums announced by the Government has been attributed to the even higher increases in benefit costs health funds are paying hospitals and doctors.
“But health consumers are encouraged to take out health insurance as a way of taking pressure off a struggling public health system, and with chronic illness rates increasing, we are unlikely to see a drop off in need, in either the private or public health system.
“This latest rise is just the last in a decade of increases.
“Private health insurance premiums have risen by more than the annual rate of inflation for more than ten years.
“CHF is concerned that this new rise, to take effect in April, will exacerbate the two-tier health system emerging in Australia which means those on low incomes and many with chronic illness aren’t able to access the care they need when they need it.
“Half the population does not have insurance and depends on a strained public system.
“A typical health insurance policy for a family can now cost more than $3,500 a year, even after a full rebate.
“That’s an extra cost beyond many households. We need to ensure that private health insurance does not become even more unaffordable.
“The rise in usage of health service and the ageing of the population provide some explanation for the rising costs.
“Yet there has been little concerted effort by past and present governments to examine ways to rein in these costs.
“CHF has long argued that we need to overhaul the system and focus on performance and outcomes rather than rewarding activity.
“As it is, more people are limiting their insurance cover and many needing surgery are seeking to have the operation performed in a public hospital in order to escape additional gap fees charged for private hospital care.
The Forum says there is a need for us to consider how our mixed model works and how it is serving the needs of all consumers, particularly those with high needs.
by Alan Thornhill
The Federal government has ordered an inquiry into funding arrangements for disaster relief.
It will be conducted by the Productivity Commission.
The Treasurer, Joe Hockey, said the gtovernment is writing to the Productivity Commission asking it to examine the full scope of national expenditure on disasters.
The Commission will look,particularly, at the effectiveness of current mitigation support arrangements.
“Further, the Commission will be asked the best ways to reduce the impact of natural disasters on communities and how they recover in a sustainable way,” Mr Hockey said.
He said the Federal Government would also consult with States and Territories on the terms of reference for the review.
Emergency Services Ministers across the country have already expressed their support for an inquiry into disaster expenditure, Mr Hockey said.
“The Government acknowledges most existing disaster funding models are weighted towards response and recovery, with a focus on immediate humanitarian and economic relief and restoration of infrastructure to its previous standard ? instead of longer-term resilience,” Mr Hockey said.
“Deloitte Access Economics estimates that the total economic cost of natural disasters in 2012 exceeded $6 billion,” he added.
“In the last five years, natural disasters around the country have claimed more than 200 lives and devastated hundreds of thousands of Australians,” Mr Hockey said.
He said the Commonwealth Government provides financial support to states and territories through the Natural Disaster Relief and Recovery Arrangements.
Eligible people are also helped through the Disaster Recovery Payment and the Disaster Recovery Allowance.
These payments have ? totalled almost $13 billion for events since 2009.
The Natural Disaster Resilience Program already supports State and Territory work designed to enhance Australia?s resilience to natural disasters.
The Prime Minister will soon write to State and Territory leaders requesting they sign a new partnership agreement for the NDRP that will contribute $52.2 million over the next two years, Mr Hockey said.
Weathercoast by Alan Thornhill
A novel on the murder of seven young Anglican Christian Brothers in the Solomon Islands.
Available now on the iTunes store.
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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