What does a Tony Abbott government mean for doctors?

3 minutes read time Categories: Regulatory & Migration 17/09/2013

So Tony Abbott finally made it into office and we now face at least three years of coalition government. What does this mean for health and the doctors that make up the medical workforce? Peter Dutton may be the new Health Minister but, with his background, Abbott is bound to have a strong influence on policy.

For clues we can look to a couple of indicators to suggest how he will interact with doctors as a group - his historical track record and his proposals in the form of his election manifesto (arguably the former is more reliable that the latter given the ethereal nature of political promises).

So let's look at his track record. As Minister for Health from 2003 to 2007, Abbott oversaw Medicare reform designed to bolster bulk billing and reduce out-of-pocket expenses for private health services. Both could be seen as doctor friendly in that they help absorb some cost incurred by patients using medical services.

He also oversaw the crisis in Medical Indemnity Insurance swiftly making it more practical and affordable for doctors - another positive and a move that was roundly welcomed by the medical profession.

With regards to budget his reign as health minister saw increases of grants to states for public hospitals of 7.4 per cent per year on average, so he has historically shown no particular desire to slash funding overall to health.

So what of his election promises?

In keeping with his general steady-as-she-goes style during his time in ministerial office, Abbott has downplayed the significance of health in his political posturing during the election campaign. He knows that health is a hot potato and probably a Labour strength.

Without revealing too much detail he has proposed spending plans worth $340m with an emphasis on redistribution of money from health "bureaucracy" to front-line services. However, he has pledged that there will be no drop in the number of doctors and nurses, plus a proposed doubling of funding over four years for doctors who train GP registrars - a solid investment in the future.

So it would seem that an Abbott government at least is likely to have a collaborative relationship with doctors.

More broadly, Abbott made no secret during his stint as Health Minister, that he is a Centralist at heart. Could it be that the Australian health system might be slated to go the way of the state medical boards with the hospital system moving entirely under federal control (we saw hints of this in Tasmania under Howard)? That would certainly be in keeping with his promise to reduce layers of bureaucracy.

Whatever you think of Abbott as a PM one could argue that having a former health minister in the job  is a good thing in that he won’t require a period of “breaking in” and is unlikely to do anything drastically stupid. Still, anything is possible in politics.

Dr John Bethell, Director

Wavelength International

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  • Barry Wells 18/09/2013 11:45am (6 years ago)

    John, Thank you for this piece on the Abbott Government. I, like most lefties has been concerned over Abbott's ability to govern. The health system seemed to be a low priority during the election campaign due to the coalitions ‘remove’ rather than ‘create’ message, referring to carbon pricing and the mining tax, both green initiatives. But your article has given me a small ray of hope that the earth will not explode and the sun will rise in the morning except it will rise onto a government that is turning its back on saving our perishes planet.

  • jbethell66 18/09/2013 7:40pm (6 years ago)

    Thanks for your comment Barry. In writing this article I tried to put aside my own political alignment and values to look at his track record in health. I found that he had quite a pragmatic approach in this area. What he does in other portfolios is another matter - I suspect it won't be health that defines his legacy.

  • David Lockwood 02/10/2013 5:26pm (6 years ago)

    I certainly hope you're right that some attention might be directed to out-of-pocket expenses in private medicine. Seems that golden eggs aren't enough for some specialties and they want to kill the goose. I'm seeing an increasing number of people who thought they were doing the right thing getting private insurance they can afford with difficulty, and simply can't afford to actually use it. Not infrequently there's some ethically questionable alarmism about the waiting time for public treatment when they complain about the gap, as well as an ongoing campaign by some to give that alarmism as much substance as possible.
    If we were talking about HMOs pressuring incomes to a level that no longer attract quality people, that would be one thing. But we're not. We're talking about multi-million $ annual income specialists haranguing pensioners for their life savings, and apparently sleeping just fine. This is no exaggeration and something is wrong here.
    Sorry about my own rant but I've just come from a patient this morning whose experience in the private system was particularly galling.

  • jbethell66 02/10/2013 8:55pm (6 years ago)

    Thank you for this insight, David. It will be interesting to see how the new government walks the fine line between the interests of voters (a.k.a. patients), lobbyists for the medical profession and the treasury. Certainly the first group would appear to be the most vulnerable.

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