It seems unlikely that health policy will be a vote-swinger at the federal election, whenever that ends up happening.

As Greg Jericho (who will forever be @GrogsGamut to me) wrote today at The Drum, Whatever happened to the health debate?: “Labor seem happy with what they have, and the Liberal Party seem desperate to not let health get in the way of talk of the carbon tax and boats”.

Yet, as he points out, health is the one area where “the introduction of fact checkers will be most welcome this election time”. (Indeed I’ve been encouraging Croakey contributors and readers to engage with The Conversation’s new fact-checking service).

Meanwhile, the AMA et al have been doing their bit to drum up some election interest in health policy, with president Dr Steve Hambleton’s address to the National Press Club today and the release of an election health policy platform. 

It’s good to see some public health focus in the document, including around alcohol (calling for a ban on alcohol sponsorship of sport and pricing reforms), food, climate change and the environment, including coal seam gas.

The AMA also wants the next Government to commit to the COAG closing the gap agreement, and an independent medical panel to report on health services available to asylum seekers. It says: “The AMA wants humanity restored to an otherwise inhumane approach to asylum seekers.” Amen to that.

(As a by the by, I happened to be writing this post in a screaming hurry in the foyer of a Canberra cinema when in walked Yvonne Luxford, CEO of Palliative Care Australia, who was delighted to see palliative care mentioned in the AMA document. “It’s wonderful to see palliative care spoken about at the National Press Club,” she said…)

The Climate and Health Alliance has also released its election platform, with two central priorities:

  • emissions reductions strategies (including for Australia to commit to stronger emissions reductions targets of 50% by 2020 and 80% by 2050 and removal of fossil fuel subsidies)
  • a call for a National Plan for Climate and Health and Well-being.

IMHO, media analyses of health policy and the election should examine how the respective parties compare on those two critical issues.

Another area where media analyses of election policies and health would do well to focus is: how likely is party X to stand up to the corporate interests that work against our health?

We’ve just seen two examples of this:

  • from the UK, where the tobacco industry seems to have been successful in blocking the introduction of plain packaging of cigarettes (there’s a great line from The Guardian about “death by lobbyist”);
  • and from NSW, where the supermarket duopoly seems to have been effective in blocking alcohol reforms (check this scathing editorial from the Newcastle Herald which concludes that:
    “It falls to governments to stand up for communities and draw the lines that must be drawn to mark the boundaries where profit-seeking must give way to broader interests and concerns. In this case, the NSW government has failed. It should remember who and what it is really supposed to serve, and review its capitulation as a matter of priority.”

So that’s another critical question to ask about the election and health policy: which party is most likely to subject us to “death by lobbyist”?

As Sarah Wollaston, a Conservative MP and a former GP, wrote in that Guardian piece:

Plain packaging has been formally killed off and minimum unit pricing for alcohol sits nervously on death row for its widely trailed execution. The only winners, perhaps, big tobacco, big alcohol and big undertakers.

The power of industry lobbying in forcing these policy shifts cannot be underestimated. Labour’s lead is back into double digits as people register their distaste and few believe it is a coincidence that the biggest tobacco giant of them all, Philip Morris Ltd, has said that it employs the services of the Conservative party’s election co-ordinator Lynton Crosby’s company CTF.”

(Update, 18 July: Another pertinent reference is this investigation by University of California San Francisco researchers into the complex web of ties between the tobacco industry and the Tea Party in the US. What looked to many like a grassroots movement that developed spontaneously in 2009 was in fact the product of decades of work by the tobacco industry and other corporate interests.)

But back in the world of healthcare policy (which, as Croakey readers well know, is just one portion of the health policy pie), one of the more important questions for Steve Hambleton at the National Press Club today came from former Fairfax health correspondent Mark Metherell, now at the Consumers’ Health Forum. He asked:

“You spoke about the continued need for reform. What about a rethinking of the way doctors are paid in Australia? You mentioned the fact that Medicare, as it’s currently constructed, is – takes us back to much more acute care entrenched system, whereas these days, of course, it’s chronic disease, aged care which require a much more continuing set of arrangements between doctor and patient. Would the AMA ever consider rethinking its love of fee-for-service and look at, say, a greater degree of salaried medical professional? We think of what’s happening with aged care patients who often can’t get a doctor to come to the nursing home for months at a time, and also with chronic care, the proposals for the diabetes scheme that are still under consideration, is this something the AMA would ever seriously consider, a move to more salaried basis for medicine?”

You can read Steve Hambleton’s response in full here.

But I don’t think this question is going to go away in the longer term (not that anyone in politics or the medical lobby will be pushing it during an election campaign)…


Previous Health Election 2013 coverage at Croakey

• And from the archives: Croakey’s 2010 election coverage







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