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Issue #1630      March 12, 2014

Editorial

Cuts are cuts are cuts

The Abbott government is quietly cutting health, aged care, women’s, Indigenous and other programs. Since its election in September 2013, a number of community groups have suddenly found their funding cut off or severely reduced. No warning, no compassion. Just axe it! Legal services, women’s refuges, advocacy centres and other community organisations are in the firing line. The government claims the cuts, always referred to as “savings”, will eliminate over-spending and inefficiencies as though the organisations receiving the funding are rorting the system and those using their services should be providing for themselves. Of course, there is never a shred of evidence to substantiate these wild claims.

Nursing home residents are the latest to feel Treasurer Hockey’s razor. Annual medication reviews will be reduced to once every two years. These reviews save lives and reduce hospital admissions as well as improve the health outcomes of many residents. The majority of aged care residents take multiple medications, six or seven or more, and some have quite complex medical conditions. These medications may interact, cause adverse reactions, or require ongoing supervision such as in the case of anti-psychotic drugs. The annual medication reviews are presently government-funded and undertaken by qualified pharmacists who are able to give valuable advice to medical practitioners and patients.

The reviews play an important role in preventative care and a reduction in frequency will only hurt patients and put pressure on public hospitals. Already one third of hospital admissions for people over 75 are a result of adverse drug reactions. Cutting back the medication reviews will increase the number of people requiring far more expensive hospitalisation.

The government claims that there is no more money for medication management programs; that it must work within the existing budget. So, using the excuse of an ageing population and rising costs, it is halving the service to make savings! It steadfastly refuses to increase spending on the service, not even in line with inflation or its own income growth. To soften up the public there are the all too familiar accusations of rorting by service providers but no explanation as to how the cuts would stop the alleged rorting.

The proposed $6 co-payment under Medicare follows a similar pattern of “cost-cutting”. As reported in the Guardian (“Why bulk billing is important”, #1628, 26-02-2014), the co-payment for GP services would lead to the destruction of bulk billing, higher costs for patients and inevitable pressure on the public hospital system, emergency departments, in particular. But the government is also determined not to increase spending on public hospitals. It keeps trotting out the usual lines about the “unsustainability” of an ageing population, the budget deficit and the “end of the age of entitlement”. “There is no more money.” Or so we are supposed to believe from a government that has promised companies another tax cut in 2015 – if they do still pay tax.

This pattern of cuts to health is repeated many times over in aged care, Indigenous services and a range of other vital services including credit and debt, employment, family violence and family law. More and more people will miss out on essential health, aged care and other services if they are on a pension, unemployed or on a low income. The government does not care about the most disadvantaged or the aged who are past being exploited in the workforce. They can be thrown on the scrap heap, and with a bit of luck church charities or philanthropists might step in.

The government is abdicating its responsibilities for the well being of the community, dismantling essential public services. There are two key objectives. The first is to cut spending so that corporate taxes can be reduced and eventually abolished. The second is privatisation. Anything that the private sector can turn a profit out of is being privatised in one form or another – sale, contracting out, private management, etc. Access to essential services and quality care will increasingly depend on ability to pay. In human terms, which don’t rate a mention from government or the big end of town, the cuts are cowardly, brutal attacks on the most vulnerable in our community. The pain and suffering they cause cannot be measured in dollars. It is a question of humanity, a concept in short supply in capitalist ideology. The process is what Treasurer Hockey refers to as “the end of the age of entitlement”.

Next article – Closure exposes vulnerable older people

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