Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Public needs education to stop blow-out in healthcare costs

Former Liberal health minister Kay Patterson says people must be educated about the cost of health services they use, warning the government faces tough choices as the health budget comes under "enormous" pressure.

Dr Patterson, who was health minister for almost two years immediately before Tony Abbott, said many changes, including ageing, increased obesity, new drugs and technologies, and antibiotic resistance, had combined to place "enormous demands" on the budget.

"If we want to have the level of healthcare we have now, we need to make choices," she said, adding she sympathised with the cabinet.

Dr Patterson would not comment on a proposal by a former adviser to Mr Abbott as health minister, Terry Barnes, for a $6 fee to visit a doctor.

Mr Barnes' proposal, made in a submission to the government's Commission of Audit, has been widely criticised by doctors and health groups, who have warned it risks hurting the poorest and sickest, and overwhelming hospital emergency departments. Labor has vowed to fight the proposal, which it has branded a "GP tax".

Mr Barnes submission estimated his proposal would save $750 million over four years by reducing unnecessary GP visits.

Dr Patterson said while the public was more informed about what services were available, there was not enough awareness of the cost they carried to the public purse.

"What we must do is make people understand the cost of health," she said.

As health minister, Dr Patterson said she introduced a policy of printing the full cost of drugs on labels for those subsidised under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. Many patients told her they were surprised to learn they were getting hundreds of dollars worth of medicines for a fraction of their cost.

"People didn't know how much they were being subsidised," she said. "Even some of the doctors said, 'I can't believe how expensive that was', and they were prescribing it.

"The community needs to understand the multitude of pressures that are placed on health costs and it will not go backwards."

Health Minister Peter Dutton said spiralling health costs would become "unmanageable" without change. Pointing to 120 per cent growth in the cost of Medicare over the past decade, Mr Dutton said some believed the rate of growth was "unsustainable".


Regulator urges Tony Abbott to act on privatisation

The national competition regulator has urged Prime Minister Tony Abbott to sell assets such as Australia Post and Medibank Private and push for the privatisation of state-owned energy companies, The Australian Financial Review reports.

Australian Competition and Consumer Commission chairman Rod Sims said the federal government's root-and-branch review of competition laws would be more far-reaching than business expected. The review should recommend the government relinquish control of long-held assets to maximise productivity and create the greatest benefit to consumers, he said.

"I think it will be the most important driver of how Australia improves its productivity," Mr Sims told The Australian Financial Review. "Of all the reviews going on, this will be the most important because it will be removing impediments to competition right across the economy.

"Government ownership versus private ownership massively affects the incentives people have to drive productivity change," he said.

Mr Sims said consumers would have paid lower electricity prices if the assets had been in private hands.

"There is no doubt in my mind that energy prices, particularly in NSW and Queensland, would now be lower had the private sector owned those network business rather than them staying in the pubic sector," he said.  "I don't think there is any doubt about that."

Outlining his priorities for this year, the ACCC boss said he would continue to pursue large penalties against big companies for breaching consumer laws, was preparing for a series of ­significant merger decisions and was closely monitoring petrol prices.

Petrol discount limit

Mr Sims said the deal with Coles and Woolworths to limit shopper docket petrol prices to a maximum of 4¢ a litre should start to have an impact this month.

"It comes into effect on 31st December and people can still run off the discounts they already have. But I would see early in the new year you will start to see the effect," Mr Sims said.

In addition, the major investigation into the two big supermarket chains and their suppliers, which could result in enforcement action, would be completed by March.

The Prime Minister has launched a scoping study for a sale of Medibank Private but has promised not to rush any transaction.

The country's biggest health insurer was valued at $4 billion during the Howard government years and its sale is expected to help pay down government debt, which is forecast to peak at $400 billion within four years.

"I strongly believe that the private sector owning commercial assets will bring about a lot more productive use of the assets than government ownership of the assets," Mr Sims said.

Australia Post tipped for sale

There is speculation that the Coalition might follow Britain, which privatised the national mail service for a likely windfall of more than $2 billion.

The Institute of Public Affairs, among other bodies, has called for the sale.

Australia Post chief executive Ahmed Fahour told The Australian Financial Review last year that a sale would make no practical difference to the way he runs the business.

The ACCC chairman said the review into competition law should also examine beefing up the regulator's powers to examine the misuse of market power and collective bargaining and strengthen various industry codes.

It could also remove barriers to competition and recommend law reform across a range of industries, including coastal shipping "where it is very hard for foreign vessels to stop in more than one port".

Mr Sims dismissed recent calls by former ACCC boss Graeme Samuel to break up the competition watchdog to hive off consumer protection matters as well as access regimes for monopoly assets to new specialised regulators.

"I think that misunderstands the synergies about the roles. Splitting it up makes no sense."


Uni faces heat over lecturer’s Syrian talks

SYDNEY University is under increasing pressure to take action over the meeting between Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad and an Australian delegation that included senior lecturer Tim Anderson.

A group of federal MPs has written to vice-chancellor Michael Spence to express concern about the meeting, which took place late last year.

The group is being co-ordinated by Andrew Nikolic, the Liberal MP for Bass, who spent nearly 30 years in the armed forces, including as a UN military observer in the Middle East at the time of the first Gulf War in the early 90s.

Signatories include Josh Frydenberg, the parliamentary secretary to the Prime Minister, and former West Australian treasurer Christian Porter.

"Now is the time for the leadership of Sydney University to tell us what it thinks of its senior lecturer's activities," Mr Nikolic told The Australian.

"The UN estimates that over 100,000 people have died during the current Syrian conflict. International sanctions are in place against the Assad regime.

"In providing this media opportunity for Assad and supporting the Assad regime, Anderson is in direct conflict with UN resolutions and Australia's diplomacy."

The letter to Dr Spence says the visit has "been exploited for propaganda purposes by Syrian authorities, who claim the Australian delegation's purpose was to express solidarity with the Assad regime and to oppose Western intervention" and warns Dr Anderson's participation could damage "Sydney University's proud reputation for academic excellence".

It asks whether Dr Anderson's "radical" views are endorsed by the university, whether he was required to notify or seek its approval before going to Syria, and if his actions were consistent with the university's values and code of conduct.

Education Minister Christopher Pyne said he could understand the concerns of Mr Nikolic and his colleagues.

"Obviously, many members of parliament are concerned to ensure that the reputation for high quality that Australian universities have earned over decades is not threatened in any way," Mr Pyne said.


Extremist Boffins ‘Risk' to Uni Repute

ACADEMIC extremism risks damaging the standing of Australia's universities, says Education Minister Christopher Pyne.

His comments come in the wake of the controversy over the support for the anti-Israel boycott, divestment and sanctions movement by Sydney University's Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies and The Australian's revelations this week that a Sydney University senior lecturer was part of a WikiLeaks Party delegation granted an audience with Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, where they affirmed "the solidarity of the Australian people.

"The commonwealth government's highest priority in higher education is quality," Mr Pyne said in a carefully coded caution.

"Every vice-chancellor should always be reviewing whether their university is meeting high standards of quality in order to protect its reputation but also Australia's international reputation in education."

Mr Pyne hinted that Sydney University vice-chancellor Michael Spence and bodies such as its senate, which had a string of left-leaning celebrity candidates including columnist Peter FitzSimons, ABC broadcaster Andrew West and former state minister Verity Firth recently elected to its ranks, should act.

"Each university is responsible for its own governance, but universities should avoid needless controversies that damage their reputation (and) also make Australia look less respectable to our potential international student market," he said.

Mr Pyne used diplomatic but firm language to warn higher-education institutions against ideological self-indulgence that could sabotage the sector.

"One of the most important things that the government can do is build revenue to universities by growing the international student market," he told The Weekend Australian.

"Universities should be partners in this goal and ensure that their reputations support rather than hinder that."

Sydney University acting vice-chancellor Tyrone Carlin declined to say whether he was concerned academic Tim Anderson's visit to Syria with the WikiLeaks group would damage the university's standing.

"The University of Sydney believes it is essential for academics to be able to able to express their views publicly on any matter within their area of expertise," Professor Carlin said.

He said he was satisfied with the recruitment practices of CPACS and the Department of Political Economy, where Dr Anderson works, and the scholarly credentials and academic rigour of both bodies.

Dr Anderson has backed calls by Jake Lynch, the CPACS chief, for Sydney University to sever its ties with Israeli institutions.

Associate Professor Lynch's support for the BDS movement, which explicitly equates Israel with apartheid-era South Africa, has been condemned by Mr Pyne and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, who this week called the WikiLeaks delegation's endorsement of the Assad regime "extremely reckless".



Paul said...

Something we've noted up here, as nurses with no power to actually do anything: Interventional cardiology has come to Cairns in a big way lately. What this has meant is that people who could have had far more cost effective nuclear medicine scans are now being given dangerous angiograms. For some this is good, because sometimes the 'gram progresses there and then to a 'plasty (stent) which is a good short-term outcome for some. The bad is that we see the cost in our premiums, and the doctor gets rich quicker because they can bill the funds for the lot whereas a nuclear med scan doesn't reap much cash. Also, some patients actually need the good old-fashioned bypass but they don't get it because someone else would get the money, so they get stents. This is but one example (there are others) of why Private Health is blowing out year on year. I've mentioned before to you the cheery 6 AM good morning that becomes an out-of-hours consultation once he's at the desk. That still happens according to colleagues at the Private Hospital here. The thing about whistle-blowing is that the defence will always be "its what I thought needed doing at the time" which no-one will dare argue, and there is no independent review process whatsoever. Basically, a corrupt doctor has the field (the field being our bank balances) wide open and nothing standing in front.

Anonymous said...

These Academics really show their ignorance when they openly show allegiance to foreign Governments and/or terrorists.

This goes with their left wing view of the world and shows where their allegiances lie. The University should be concerned with education of young people not taking sides with conflicts which are nothing to do with education.

They also show their ignorance by encouraging hatred of Israel and the Jewish people who have already suffered enough because of the mass murders of their people during the holocaust.

This came about because of people like these left wing academics who aided and abetted Hitler in his purge of the Jewish people
by inciting hatred as they are now doing here.