Thursday, 1 June 2017

Would believing Australian Health Minister Greg Hunt's denials be the height of foolishness?

Along with making home-owning aged pensioners pay for their Centrelink/Vet Affairs pensions by way of a debt against the value of their houses, it appears as though funding private hospitals at the expense of public hospitals may be on the Liberal-Nationals-Murdoch-IPA Coalition wish list.

A list voters never actually get to see unless the Liberal and National parties are re-elected to government - at which time its contents are usually presented to the electorate as fixed policy.

Basic outline of unsubmitted recommendations of the
Global Access Partners (GAP) Taskforce on Hospital Funding
Via Twitter

Health department bosses have described their radical proposal to remake hospital funding as "future gazing" after the Turnbull government declared it would never adopt the controversial policy.
The private health insurance rebate would be abolished, consumers would be charged more for extras cover and the states would be forced to find more money for public hospitals under the plan.
As revealed by Fairfax Media on Monday, the nation's most senior health bureaucrats – Department of Health Secretary Martin Bowles and his deputy Mark Cormack – are members of a secretive taskforce formed to develop the policy around a "Commonwealth Hospital Benefit" (CHB).

Health Minister Greg Hunt immediately ruled out adopting the policy.

"Not government policy. Won't be government policy. Will never be government policy," Mr Hunt said.

Mr Hunt said the taskforce – funded by the department but run by a private think tank called Global Access Partners – pre-dated his time in the portfolio and he had already told bureaucrats he was not interested: "I've rejected it once. If it ever comes forward, I'll reject it again."

Officials attended a GAP meeting that explored the proposal just four days after Mr Hunt apparently told them not to pursue the idea in March.

And Mr Cormack met with members of GAP as recently as May, two months after they say Mr Hunt ruled out the proposal…..

They insisted there was nothing secret about the taskforce even though it was never announced, never released anything publicly and branded its material – leaked to Fairfax Media – as "confidential".

Mr Bowles insisted the taskforce was fully independent – even though the government paid for it with a $55,000 contract…….

Under the plan, the Commonwealth would "pool" the approximately $20 billion it currently gives to public hospitals each year with the $3 billion it pays to private sector doctors and the $6 billion it spends on the rebate to help people pay their private health insurance premiums. 

It would use the money to pay a standard benefit for services regardless of whether they are performed in a public or private hospital, or whether people choose to be treated as public or private patients.

While the Turnbull government struck a three-year hospital funding deal with the states last year, it has flagged it wants a more long-term, less ad-hoc agreement – and a CHB proposal could fit the bill. COAG is set to revisit the issue of hospital funding next year to set the course for a post-2020 agreement., 29 May 2017:

He told Senate Estimates yesterday it was his job as head of the department to look at the future of health funding.

He confirmed the department had entered into broad policy work on the proposal.
However, it emerged he did not put the $55,000 contract for the consultancy work to tender.

Mr Bowles said he gave the work to Mr Peter Fritz, the head of GAP, after they met in 2016 and told the Senate it was possible for him to award contracts for work costing less than $80,000 without a tender process.

Senator Watts probed Mr Bowles about connections between GAP and the Australian Health Research Centre which is funded by a number of large health insurers.

Members of the AHRC attended taskforce meetings, he revealed.

However, Private Healthcare Australia which represents insurers has raised major concerns about the plan.

“I’m genuinely stunned,’ Private Healthcare Australia chief Rachel David said when she was told the work had been paid for by taxpayers.

“It was a dramatic overhaul of the health system that totally changed the role of private health insurance, eliminated the difference between public and private hospitals and wold have put doctors on salaries,” she said.

“It would have been inflationary, there was no demand management,” she said.

This is what Global Access Partners Pty Ltd (formerly CSD Pty Ltd estab.1969) says of itself:

It appears to have been founded by:
Peter Fritz - who besides being GAP Chair & Group Managing Director of TCG Pty Ltd also chairs a number of influential government and private enterprise boards - and Catherine Fritz-Kalish currently GAP’s Managing Director.

Its offices are at 71 Balfour St, Chippendale NSW 2008 Australia.

GAP sees its participation in health public policy to date thus:

* The Australian National Consultative Committee on Health (formerly known as the Australian National Consultative Committee on e-Health) was established as a result of Global Access Partners’ 2004 Forum on ‘Better Health Care through Electronic Information’.
The ANCCH represents the major ICT industry players and other stakeholder groups. The Committee contributes to the debate around the public and private health agenda in Australia with a view to promote and realise better patient health outcomes through the application of changes to process, and the interaction of technology to improve efficiency, safety and productivity.
The group also provides a forum for public-private partnerships in order to promote improved execution and industry development.
The Committee  raises issues of national importance, influences government policy and supports the interests of its members. Its four broad areas of interest are agency coordination, chronic disease management, connectivity and infrastructure, and change management.
The ANCCH initiatives in the area of health and wellbeing over the last seven years have ranged from discussions of national health policy to the problems of implementing an Australia-wide e-health infrastructure and the potential applications of genetic testing in drug therapy to the management and long term funding of chronic "lifestyle" diseases in an ageing Australian population.

* GAP Taskforce on Government Health Procurement (2015-2016) is a cross-sectoral multidisciplinary group established by Global Access Partners to analyse Australia’s public health procurement and offer practical proposals for reform (see final report). The Taskforce considered the impact of procurement processes on the age and reliability of medical equipment, service levels, innovation and competition. Its final report highlights some of the inefficiencies of current health government purchasing  and calls for a more rational tendering process to reduce costs and waste in the system, while improving the quality and safety of care.

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