We’re miss­ing out on health ser­vices

Central and North Burnett Times - - NEWS -

PEO­PLE liv­ing out­side city ar­eas are miss­ing out on $2 bil­lion of gov­ern­ment­funded health ser­vices ev­ery year.

The Na­tional Ru­ral Health Al­liance says the multi-bil­lion dol­lar gap ex­ists be­cause peo­ple liv­ing out­side cities do not have the ser­vices in their ar­eas.

The al­liance’s chief ex­ec­u­tive KimWeb­ber said the $2 bil­lion deficit in­cluded Medi­care-funded ser­vices, phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals and aged care.

She also said the fig­ure took into ac­count an over­spend in hospi­tal fund­ing in ar­eas out­side cities.

“Ru­ral peo­ple over-utilise hospi­tal ser­vices,” she said.

“It’s be­cause we don’t ac­cess the early ser­vices, so we get sicker.

“So by the time we see some­one, we’re really sick and need to go to hospi­tal.”

She said peo­ple were miss­ing out on gov­ern­ment­funded health ser­vices in re­gional, ru­ral and re­mote ar­eas be­cause the ser­vices were not there.

“Really, it’s about work­force dis­tri­bu­tion be­cause the way you ac­cess Medi­care mainly is go­ing to see some­body,” she said.

“And if that per­son’s not there, then you miss out.”

Ru­ral Doc­tors As­so­ci­a­tion of Aus­tralia pres­i­dent Dr Ewen McPhee said the dif­fer­ence be­tween ac­cess­ing ser­vices in city ar­eas and out­side met­ro­pol­i­tan ar­eas was grossly un­der­es­ti­mated.

“And we un­der­es­ti­mate how much it costs peo­ple to find time and to travel the dis­tances they have to travel to ac­cess care,” he said.

Dr McPhee said there was a lack of con­sid­er­a­tion for ru­ral and re­mote peo­ple who had to travel to ac­cess health ser­vices.

The Depart­ment of Health was un­able to con­firm the $2 bil­lion deficit fig­ure.

But a spokesman for the Coali­tion gov­ern­ment said it was not sur­pris­ing that there were more Medi­care ser­vices in city ar­eas, given more peo­ple lived in cities.

He also said the Medi­care bulk billing rate was higher in ar­eas out­side cities and that the num­ber of full-time GPs out­side of metro ar­eas had grown.

The spokesman said the Coali­tion had redi­rected $50 mil­lion to in­crease pay for doc­tors work­ing out­side cap­i­tal cities and had in­vested $98 mil­lion to­wards train­ing doc­tors in ru­ral ar­eas.

La­bor spokesman for ru­ral and re­gional health Stephen Jones said it was not sur­pris­ing there was a $2 bil­lion gap in funded ser­vices for peo­ple liv­ing out­side cities.

Mr Jones said the big­gest threat to ru­ral prac­tices was the freez­ing of the Medi­care re­bate and that La­bor would un­freeze the Medi­care re­bate to en­sure GPs would not be forced to hit pa­tients with more fees.

Dr McPhee said throw­ing money at the prob­lem would not solve the is­sue.

He said lo­cal gov­ern­ments needed to be more in­volved in the health of their ar­eas, just as much as roads and rates.

At a fed­eral level, he said a united health plan needed to be de­vel­oped to in­cor­po­rate all ar­eas of health, and to have a com­mis­sioner to over­see it and be held re­spon­si­ble.

Mr Jones said a La­bor gov­ern­ment would es­tab­lish the Aus­tralian Health­care Re­form Com­mis­sion that would play a di­rect role in de­vel­op­ing pro­posed changes in ru­ral health.

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