Budget ignores coming ‘illness tsunami’
The Morrison government’s April budget did little to prevent major illnesses related to factors such as obesity and alcohol abuse, experts say.
Public health advocacy groups and experts welcomed certain health care initiatives announced in the federal budget last month but said it invested too little in disease prevention.
The Public Health Association of Australia (PHAA), which represents more than 40 public health-related disciplines, said the budget’s extension of the Child Dental Benefits Schedule ($1 billion) and mental health and suicide prevention commitments ($736 million) were among several valuable investments.
However, PHAA chief executive Terry Slevin said two of our biggest killers – obesity and alcohol – were “conspicuous by their absence” in the budget, which “does little to prevent a future illness tsunami”.
Mr Slevin called for major action to contain “the explosion of obesity and overweight in our community”, limit alcohol-related harm and close the “massive gap” between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians.
“Australia is one of the lowest investors in illness prevention of any OECD nation at less than two per cent of our national health spending,” he said.
“Spending on good health care, effective drugs and research is important and essential. But a continual downward spiral in real prevention is a trend we must seriously address.”
Professor Lesley Russell of the Menzies Centre for Health Policy at the University of Sydney noted that Treasurer Josh Frydenberg did not mention Closing the Gap in his budget speech, and there was little in the Budget for Indigenous health.
Budget measures a short-term fix
The Australian Health Care Reform Alliance includes organisations such as the Australian College of Nurse Practitioners, Catholic Health Australia and Doctors Reform Society.
AHCRA chairperson Jennifer Doggett welcomed budget measures such as a new $448 million primary care scheme for patients over 70 and extension of the Child Dental Benefits Schedule.
However, she said the Budget ignored calls from experts and health groups for a re-orienting of the health system away from acute care towards prevention and public health.
“This budget provides a suite of short-term measures that barely deal with the symptoms of an ailing system, let alone address their underlying causes,” she said.
“Warning bells are sounding all over the health sector – increased obesity levels, the health threats of climate change and record rates of chronic disease – yet the current government doesn’t appear to be listening.
“Funding for medicines, doctors and hospitals dominated the spending measures with little left over to tackle other areas of health care, including public health and prevention.”
The Australian Medical Association has described obesity as Australia’s biggest public health challenge.
Ms Doggett said the budget did not include any measures targeting obesity, which costs taxpayers about $5 billion each year.
This was despite repeated calls from the health sector for action on obesity and specifically for a sugar-sweetened beverages tax.