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Health and healthcare: what Greg Hunt must do

Lesley Russell writes in Inside Story (23.1.17) about how the federal Health portfolio needs a strong minister who will look beyond negotiations with doctors and hospitals to improve Australians’ health.

‘Malcolm Turnbull’s appointment of Greg Hunt to the vacancy created by the resignation of Sussan Ley has prompted more than the usual opinions and suggestions about the health minister’s role and priorities.

‘The portfolio is always a key one for voters, but concerns among consumers and health organisations are more potent than usual for several reasons: a growing awareness that significant changes are needed to the delivery, integration and funding of health and healthcare services; frustration at the failure of the Abbott and Turnbull governments to propose and implement coherent policies; and suspicions that the government’s stealth agenda is to undermine the universality of Medicare through further privatisation and higher out-of-pocket costs.

‘Minister Hunt comes to the task with a mixed record in his previous portfolios and has already sent mixed messages about his new portfolio. He has a substantial task ahead, and little time to get up to speed on the issues. Ley left many issues in the too-hard basket, work on the 2017–18 budget is already under way, decisions must be made about increases in private health insurance premiums for 2017, and public trust in the ability and willingness of the Turnbull government to protect Medicare is eroding.

‘I have written previously that the ideal health minister is someone with enthusiasm for the task at hand who will listen to and make the effort to understand the needs and concerns of consumers and professional groups, and who recognises that investments in health and healthcare deliver returns in productivity and social equity. He or she needs to be someone who can forcibly make the case to those who control the budget and can work across portfolios and levels of government to better deal with the needs of the population. Is this a description of Greg Hunt?’

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