Health Minister Peter Dutton
Health Minister Peter Dutton AAP Image - Lukas Coch

Health spending slow down

FEDERAL Labor has launched a stinging attack on the Abbott Government over health funding after new figures released on Tuesday showed health spending was increasing at the slowest rate since the 1980s.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare report showed total spending on health was estimated at $147.4 billion in 2012-13, only 1.5% higher than the previous year.

Institute director David Kalisch said the report also revealed 2013-14 spending growth was the lowest recorded by the institute since it began reporting the data in the mid-1980s, and "more than three times lower than the average growth over the last decade".

The data was politically explosive, as Health Minister Peter Dutton and Treasurer Joe Hockey have argued that health spending was "unsustainable", in making their case for the controversial $7 GP co-payment.

It sparked calls from the Australian Medical Association's president Dr Brian Owler for the government to abandon the GP co-payment, fearing more severe consequences in rural and regional areas.

Dr Owler said the data "made a mockery" of the government's claims that health spending was "out of control", and there was no justification for the co-payment, despite the AMA previously proposing changes to allow a more limited co-payment.

He said it was clear the impost of the co-payment would be "more of a problem" in remote and regional Australia, and that the largest growth in health costs in recent years was borne by patients themselves or the health insurance industry, not the federal government.

Labor's health spokeswoman Catherine King pounced on the report and Dr Owler's comments, saying "one of the government's own agencies destroyed its claim health funding is unsustainable".

She said it was now time for Prime Minister Tony Abbott to "accept the evidence and listen to the health professionals and scrap his GP tax".

However, Mr Dutton said the figures also show health costs do continue to rise, describing the 2012-13 as evidence rather that "Labor presided over a slowdown in health funding".

He reiterated the government's claims that the costs of Medicare continue to rise "at an unsustainable rate", saying government forecasts showed the costs of the scheme were projected to rise to $34 billion over the next decade.

The government is still negotiating with Senate crossbenchers to pass its GP co-payment proposal, four months after the measure was announced in the May budget.


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