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Australian Government Charged With Under-funding Public Hospitals

At a time director Michael Moores Sicko has laid bare the horrific imbalances in the US healthcare, Bushs closest ally, Australian Prime Minister John Howard, is also in similar difficulties.

A report of the Caring For Our Health, released Sunday, charged the federal government with under-funding public hospitals by a whopping $1.1 billion a year. That means 350,000 hospital admissions less.

The report was prepared jointly by Australia's six state and two territory Labor health ministers.

It also found that since 2000 the commonwealth's financial contribution to running and maintaining hospitals had fallen from 50 per cent to 45 per cent.

It estimated that within 20 years the Commonwealth would only contribute 25 per cent of the money required to run public hospitals, leaving the states and territories to cover the remaining 75 per cent.

Commenting on the report, the South Australian health minister John Hill said clearly the federal government was failing Australians and shifting the cost burden to individuals.

"The federal government is failing Australians - we have a shortage of GPs, and health costs are rising," Mr Hill said in a statement.

"Australians are paying more than ever for healthcare, while our public hospitals are under-funded by the Commonwealth."

Hill said 10 years ago Australians spent the equivalent of $9 billion out of their own pockets on health care, but now that was up to $15 billion.

"Costs of health are rising faster than inflation but the burden is being shifted by the federal government to the individual," he said.

The minister also said the federal government needed to work with the states and territories to plan for the future of the health system, with the ageing population and medical workforce two major challenges.

"We will face even more dramatic shortages of health professionals in the future and this will have a serious impact on Australians' access to services and the quality of patient care," he said.

But Federal Health Minister Tony Abbott remains unfazed and says the report itself is politically motivated.

He contended that the $1.1 billion figure was incorrect and that the federal government was honoring all of its commitments under current health care funding agreements negotiated in 2003.

He said the report had been released by the states in an effort to boost the electoral fortunes of federal Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd.

"It's the state Labor governments ganging up on the federal government,'' Abbott told reporters outside his Sydney home.

"It's the state premiers and health ministers trying to give Kevin Rudd a bit of a leg up.''

It was up to the states to fix any problems in public hospitals, Abbott said.

"The states are simply recycling an argument that they've been running ever since 2003,'' he said.

Rudd himself declined to say what a federal Labor government would do to address the states' concerns.

"We won't give a commitment on precise numbers at this stage,'' he told the Nine Network.

"But we do recognize that there is a problem when it comes to, let's call it, the funding relationship between Canberra and the states when it comes to public hospitals.''

The report said that in August 2006, there were about 2,300 older people in public hospitals who should have been in an aged care facility.

Aged care is a federal responsibility and Rudd said more needed to be done to move people out of hospital and into appropriate nursing home-style accommodation.

The report also found the average out-of-pocket cost of seeing a GP has risen by about 60 per cent and the out-of-pocket cost of seeing a specialist has risen by 54 per cent over 10 years.

The current batch of health care agreements between the commonwealth and the states are due to expire in mid-2008.


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