National Health Agreement Welcome but Only a First Step

The Business Council of Australia welcomes the leadership shown by the federal government in securing agreement by the states and territories to a national healthcare reform package.

“The federal government’s commitment to health reform is welcome. The longer we delay reform, the more likely it is that weaknesses already evident in a system under strain will become overwhelming,” BCA Chief Executive Jennifer Westacott said.

“By meeting out of session to secure this agreement, COAG has shown that our governments can work together effectively to progress important reforms.

“As hard as this agreement was to reach, it must be seen as only the first step in a long journey of putting health care on to a sustainable footing.

“What matters is not which government pays or who owns what but the quality of outcomes that are delivered, whether they are sustainable, and how well they serve all Australians relative to other systems around the world,” Ms Westacott said.

On an initial assessment of the agreement, the BCA supports the greater transparency in public hospital funding through the establishment of the National Health Funding Pool.

The Independent Hospital Pricing Authority and the establishment of a framework within which nationally consistent, efficient prices are developed should lift efficiency without jeopardising quality of care.

The new National Health Performance Authority to monitor and report on the performance of hospital networks, and to ensure access to information so that people can choose the best care for them, is welcomed.

“Without such information, it is impossible to assess how well Australia’s healthcare system performs against world best practice and difficult for patients to make informed choices,” Ms Westacott said.

“The agreement recognises that implementation of nationally consistent data sets and pricing regimes will take some time and will need ongoing review and improvement.

“But the BCA believes these commitments to improving the efficiency, timeliness and integrity of performance information are fundamental to improving health outcomes and access to services.

“For too long patients have been denied access to information about the costs and quality of care they might expect in healthcare organisations.

“We especially welcome the initial steps that are being taken to provide an integrated set of governance arrangements that span primary and acute care, public and private sector institutions.

“The BCA also welcomes the clarification of service and funding responsibilities for aged care and disability services, but notes that these might require further change as necessary reforms to those sectors are considered soon.
 
“These steps, together with the commitment to e-health, should provide the basis of building a truly national system of healthcare that uses the mix of public and private resources to best effect.

“The challenge now will be to ensure that states are held accountable for the full implementation of these reforms, that they are not further diluted and that the next stages of reform are pursued. Without ongoing reform, our current healthcare sector will be overwhelmed by the continuing growth in demand,” she said.