Health policy has been a key focus of the campaign to date, dominating the discussion on both sides. With four weeks to play out, we are likely to see further announcements on health as the major parties seek to convince voters of their ability to not only deliver a strong health system for Australia, but also to do so in a fiscally responsible way. And in doing so, both sides have been taking pot shots at each other.
The key announcement of the Opposition’s Budget in Reply was its Medicare Cancer Plan, which sees the investment of $2.3 billion to slash out-of-pocket costs and waiting lists for cancer patients.
The package includes $600 million to improve access to and affordability of diagnostic images, $500 million to reduce public hospital waiting times, $433 million to create a new bulk-billed Medicare item for oncologists, and $125 million for cancer research.
In response, the Coalition has questioned Labor’s mathematics on the subject, releasing data from the Department of Health that indicates eliminating out-of-pocket costs for cancer-related Medicare items would cost $6.8 billion over four years.
Minister for Health, the Hon Greg Hunt MP, stated that Labor ‘have no idea what they’re promising, and they have not funded what they have pretended to be delivering… it is an irresponsible hoax’.
The Opposition stated that its number came from the Parliamentary Budget Office. Shadow Minister for Health, the Hon Catherine King MP, defended the policy and said that her party would ‘be working both with the Diagnostic Imaging Association and health professionals there, as well as the cancer specialists to design new Medicare items… to actually drive down the costs for patient care’.