Physical wellbeing and health care represent among the biggest tests facing Australia yet you would not know it from the opening shots to the 2013 federal election campaign this week.
The profound challenges facing Australia arising from ageing, rising chronic illness and galloping health costs failed to provoke any
significant response from either Julia Gillard or Tony Abbott this week when they opened their campaigns at the National Press Club .
There was no mention of the vaulting cost of hospitals and emerging disputes between states and Commonwealth on funding. Remember blame-shifting was a problem for Tony Abbott as Health Minister which former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd pledged to end?
Neither leader took up that issue this week despite the current federal-state fights over hospital costs.
It might be hoped that the fixed September 14 polling date might inspire both sides to propose system reforms that promote more effective primary care and prevention. That seems unlikely.
This week, what little mention either leader made of health tended toward well-worn ideological differences that have marred health policy in Australia for many decades.
Prime Minister Gillard yesterday referred to the Medicare dentistry arrangements that then Health Minister Abbott installed in late 2007
as “the millionaires’ dental scheme”.
While that scheme’s failing was that it was open-ended, Labor has not produced evidence that high-earners exploited the scheme. Defenders of the scheme have argued that millionaires as a rule can afford dentists and are unlikely to wait until their tooth ache
compromises their health.
Tony Abbott meanwhile today repeated his vague promise to unwind the means test on the health insurance rebate, asserting that “private health insurance is absolutely in our DNA”.
That’s a statement which does have some weight: ever since the introduction of the 30 per cent tax rebate on health insurance premiums, the Coalition has appeared incapable of acknowledging that the rebate essentially improves access to health care of the well-off at the expense of the uninsured majority who struggle to access elective surgery.
He said he would like to dispose of the means test — which adds hundreds of dollars to the premium costs of high-earners this year. But citing the current financial woes facing government, he would not set a time frame for its removal.
Given Tony Abbott’s quest to claim the voter’s trust, he was inevitably asked about his failure to keep his “rolled-gold” promise to
maintain the Medicare safety net threshold — a pledge broken after the 2004 election.
His explanation was that he was over-ruled by his senior cabinet colleagues. Then he had to bow to authority… “Now, if I can put it more crudely, I am the authority.”