Inquiry could save taxpayers billions: CHA


The Federal Government announcement of an inquiry to implement the World Health Organisation’s social determinants of health action plan could help 500,000 Australians avoid chronic illness, says Catholic Health Australia (CHA).

This week's announcement by Social Inclusion Minister Mark Butler was in response to a CHA report showing the annual cost of not implementing the World Health Organisation plan was $2.3 billion in avoidable hospital costs and $8 billion in lost wages.

CHA chief executive officer Martin Laverty said The World Health Organisation in 2008 detailed how member nations could improve the health of their populations by reform outside of the health system. The establishment of an inquiry will enable Australia to implement this international plan.

"Within Australia, low-income earners suffer twice the amount of chronic illness than high-income earners. The NATSEM report CHA has released shows if we improved the health of low-income earners, there are savings to the taxpayer and gains for the economy to be made," Mr Laverty said.

"To achieve these gains, we don’t need to reform the health system. We need to target existing education and social programs to better serve the needs of those in socioeconomic disadvantage. Australia has a good track record in these areas; the Senate Standing Committee on Community Affairs will look at improvements."

The CHA-NATSEM report titled The Cost of Inaction on the Social Determinants of Health found implementing the World Health Organisation’s recommendations could see:

  • 500,000 Australians avoid suffering a chronic illness
  • 170,000 extra Australians enter the workforce, generating $8 billion in extra earnings
  • $4 billion in welfare support payments saved each year
  • 60,000 fewer people admitted to hospital annually, resulting in savings of $2.3 billion in hospital expenditure
  • 5.5 million fewer Medicare services utilised each year, resulting in annual savings of $273 million
  • 5.3 million fewer Pharmaceutical Benefit Scheme scripts being filled each year, resulting in annual savings of $184.5 million

"The task of an inquiry will not be simple, but we look forward to agreeing on the terms of reference and the announcement of a timetable for the process. It will need to consider how to target improved early childhood conditions, school completion, workforce participation and other factors that international evidence shows determine a person’s health status," Mr Laverty said.

"It will also need to look at what targets and indicators will be needed to track progress in order for taxpayer savings and economic productivity gains to be made. There is a clear role for the new National Health Performance Authority and Medicare Locals to play in monitoring these targets."

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