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Transforming Outpatient Services Strategy

Transforming Outpatient Services Strategy

Getting Tasmanians timely access to healthcare is one of our state’s most critical issues. We all know something needs to change: with almost 8,700 Tasmanians stuck on public hospital elective surgery waiting lists, the business-as-usual approach to healthcare just isn’t working and is making the health budget unsustainable.

St.LukesHealth acknowledges and welcomes the State Government’s willingness to do things differently through its new Transforming Outpatient Services Strategy. It aims to help Tasmanians access care and services, close to home, much sooner than the grim wait times we’re living with today, while assisting the government with ballooning costs.

It takes a holistic approach to shorten wait times, improve communication, and modernise processes, as outlined by Premier and Minister for Health Jeremy Rockliff this week (A Healthier Patient Care, The Mercury Talking Point, 16th November).

The measures in the strategy are a step in the right direction, and in terms of what the State Government is able to control, seems properly targeted at achieving better access to care.

But it’s not just the State Government that needs to be a part of this plan. The Federal Government has a fundamental role in driving down demand for public hospital services.

Cost of living pressures are undoubtedly biting Tasmanian families hard and as a result of that, people may reconsider their investment in private health insurance. Unfortunately, every Tasmanian who feels they cannot afford to maintain or buy private health insurance represents another person destined to join the public hospital waiting lists, in the event they need anything other than emergency surgery.

The Federal Government must restore the means-tested private health insurance rebate as a matter of urgency. Once set at 30 per cent, the rebate brought private health insurance within reach of more people, taking significant pressure off the public hospital system. Unfortunately, the rebate has eroded significantly to less than 25 per cent in some cases – representing a whopping $23 million each year that is no longer being paid back to Tasmanians on low to middle incomes to keep them in the private system, and out of the public hospital system.

While it isn’t well recognised, two-thirds of all elective surgical procedures performed in Tasmania are performed in private hospital systems, overwhelmingly paid for by private health insurers on behalf of members who are making a decision to put their hand in their own pocket to fund their health care. So, despite meeting just one third of the surgical demand, the public hospital system is under constant pressure with long wait times. For the State Government’s measures to have the biggest impact, the Federal Government must do its bit to reduce the likelihood that people will drop out of the private system and be left with no choice but to join the long queues in the public system.

Restoring the rebate is a policy measure that would balance the demands in the health system, support the State Government’s aims and ultimately, deliver better access to health care for all Tasmanians.
 
- Paul Lupo
CEO St.LukesHealth