2014 was another eventful year for APHA. Following the change of government at the election held in late 2013, there was a flurry of activity on the policy front, starting with the Commission of Audit. APHA’s submission to the Commission focussed on sensible reforms to reduce the regulatory burden for the sector while at the same time defending a range of existing regulations that provide a necessary safety net for consumers.
In March, Health Minister Peter Dutton addressed the APHA National Congress in Brisbane and started to outline his vision for an expanded role for the private sector which he said “has the runs on the board in terms of innovation and efficiency.”
The Minister talked about an expanded role for the private sector in service delivery, but went on to say that private hospitals “can play an important role in meeting other challenges – including supporting an appropriately trained and located health workforce, improving patient safety and quality, and delivering the best outcomes for patients.”
For the first time in many years, the Federal Budget did not include any adverse measures for the private hospitals sector. The Health portfolio itself was not immune to the savings imposed across the government. Key measures included a new GP co-payment, the sale of Medibank Private and a change in the way the commonwealth’s proportion of public hospital funding is applied, with a shift away from activity-based funding. In addition, a number of agencies were marked for amalgamation. But there were no adverse changes to private health insurance policy settings.
The stated policy of the Government is to restore the full set of policy measures related to the rebate (i.e. abolish means-testing) when it is fiscally responsible to do so, but giving the erosion in the budget position, this seems unlikely in the foreseeable future, if ever.
The Government’s difficulties partly stem from the new composition of the Senate from July this year. Effectively, when the ALP and the Greens oppose legislation, the Government needs to secure the votes of at least 6 of 8 cross bench Senators. With shifting allegiances and positions determined on an issue by issue basis, the Government has been unable to pass some key Budget measures. For this reason, they moved late in the year to implement a modified version of their GP co-payment policy by regulation, rather than legislation.
Legislation enabling the sale of Medibank Private was passed in the Coalition’s previous term of Government and the float was completed in November. The now listed health fund had made noises about driving profitability through reducing benefits paid to providers and even to reducing significantly the number of hospitals it has on contract. APHA will keep a close watch on developments in this space and advise members accordingly.
There is a more detailed outline of the key policy issues we have managed during the year, but the Government’s review of competition policy, due to be finalised in March 2015, may well lead to new opportunities for private hospitals. Similarly, it is significant that the China Australia Free Trade Agreement signed late this year specifically makes provision for Australian private hospital operators to enter the Chinese market.
After 12 years as Secretary of the Department of Health, Jane Halton was appointed as Secretary of the Department of Finance. We have always enjoyed a close and constructive working relationship with Ms Halton and we wish her all the best in her new role. We also look forward to developing a relationship with her successor at Health, Martin Bowles.
Once again I would like to thank my team in the APHA Secretariat who are committed to ensuring all APHA members receive the very best service and representation. This year we were joined by Lesa Cleaves who replaced Jodie Bremer as Administration Officer and Lyndal Bailey, our Communications Officer, moved on and has been replaced by Prakriti Singhania who commences in the new year.
As 2014 was an APHA election year, there were a number of changes to the Council and Board. Departing Council Members included Chris Rex, Henry Barclay, Kathy Nagle and Craig McNally. New members include, Allan Boston, Malcom Passmore, Vicki Canning, Phillipa Blakey, Gavin O’Meara and David Wenkart.
After six years in the role of APHA National President, Chris Rex stepped down from the Board and Council due to increasing overseas commitments. I would like to personally thank Chris for the vision and commitment he brought to the role of President. He was, and continues to be, a passionate advocate for the sector and has served the membership well.
Chris was replaced as President in October by Richard Royle, who as vice-President for the last 6 years managed a smooth transition into the top job. While remaining on the Council, Geoff Sam has also left the Board. Geoff has been involved in the governance of APHA on and off for well over 20 years, including a stint as President and I thank him for his huge contribution and his personal support. New appointees to the Board are Malcolm Passmore and Robert Cusack.
On a personal note, I managed to complete 20 years of service with APHA in March this year. I was grateful the Board chose to celebrate this milestone with a function at Parliament House attended by many friends and supporters of APHA. Thanks to all the sponsors, Board members, Councillors, committee members and staff who have helped me through some interesting times over the years. It has been an absolute pleasure to work with you.