Now is the time for boldness and creativity in the health system

With the federal government announcing a root and branch review of Medicare to ensure its ongoing viability, reduce demand on the Health system and maintain budget priorities, now more than ever is the time to reframe how the sector functions.

Historically, governments of all persuasion spend more time and money addressing health issues after they have become a problem, rather than acting to prevent the problems arising in the first place.

Indeed, I suspect ninety nine percent of funding goes to support rehabilitation or curative services for conditions that in many instances may have been preventable.

Here are 12 suggestions to reverse the current trajectory:

  1. Prevention is better than cure (and significantly cheaper). To reduce Australia’s growing rates of chronic disease, and consequent demands on the health system, the Federal Government must implement a proactive preventative health strategy to reduce the actual numbers of people experiencing chronic health problems.
  2. The government should create a specific Preventative Health portfolio that brings together key stakeholders in the physical activity, exercise and sports sectors to develop a revised “Life. Be in it.” public health campaign encouraging more Australians to get more active more often.
  3. Remove Allied Health Barriers. Subject to appropriate standards and governance, existing Allied Health barriers, that prevent exercise professionals fully utilising their qualifications, skills and experiences for the benefit of the wider community, need to be removed and Medicare funding made available for their services.
  4. Existing government health programs such as NDIS and My Aged Care should be widened in scope to include preventative health programs for the relevant clients.
  5. Activity incentive programs, such as the various state government voucher systems, should be made available to all Australians across a broader range of physical activities to encourage as many Australians as possible to put their phone down, get off their backsides, and get outside.
  6. The government must take seriously its commitment to the WHO’s international campaign to get more people more active. Although the Coalition signed up four years ago promising to have fifteen percent more Australians more active by 2030 it subsequently did nothing of any consequence.
  7. Partner and stakeholder legacy support. The Federal Government will no doubt be part funding the upcoming Women’s World Cup, Commonwealth Games and Olympics. In return they should be requiring the relevant organisations to plan and implement an ongoing legacy of increased physical activity as a result of the event’s media exposure and community interest.
  8. Private Health fund flexibility. Private Health funds are fully aware of the health and financial benefits that come from preventative health activities. Accordingly, they should be given discretion as to which physical activities they deem will be eligible for member rebates.
  9. Existing government agency funded programs should be reviewed for their efficacy and, should funding be continued, have clear, unambiguous and publicly reported KPI’s.
  10. Reallocation of Funding. A portion of existing government funding to chronic health disease associations should be put to public tender and used to fund community and grass roots physical activity and exercise programs.
  11. Just as the government uses the tax system to encourage private health insurance it should do likewise for encouraging exercise through tax deductions or FBT exemptions for bona fide physical activities.
  12. Now is also the time for rational consideration of a sugar/fat tax with the proceeds being used to fund a long-term public health campaign, including all the above and community activations, leading to generational change in our behaviour.

The result is a healthier, happier Australia, less burden on the health system and permanent Budget savings.

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