The squandered health dollars Sussan Ley ignores

5 November, 2015

Re-blogged with the kind permission of the author, Paul Smith, deputy editor, Australian Doctor

Hon Sussan Ley Health MinisterFederal Health Minister Sussan Ley offered another slick performance at her Press Club address in Canberra last week.

People like her, she has good telly presence in a way that happily contrasts with the bad cop menace of her predecessor Peter Dutton.

When she addressed the industry big wigs in the audience – the drug companies, the management consultancies, the medical groups, the private health insurers – you could see them undergo the beautific visions of those who feel goodness had returned to Narnia.

Ms Ley is lucky.

The politics of her job have an easy-to-follow script – lots of excited talk about the urgent need for change before unleashing the reform taskforce which makes the government look like it’s all action, while helpfully delaying the unpleasant stuff until beyond the next election.

Ms Ley added another review to those already running – to look at the private health insurance industry.

She sold it as an attempt to understand why, despite the $6 billion in public subsidy each year, so many policies are “junk”, failing to cover the hospitals interventions needed when their members are at their sickest.

She also gave a passing reference to freeing up health insurers to play a bigger part in funding care outside the hospital gates.

There was even mention of encouraging more people to save their own money to fund future costs of primary health care. These are the ideas often floated by those who see the concept of ‘Medicare for All’ as having a use-by-date.

The audience smiled sweetly back.

But there was one (brief) moment which offered a glimpse of the tougher times likely to come to the minister, especially when she eventually collides full-on with an angry AMA over her MBS reforms.

It was when the News Limited journalist Sue Dunlevy, someone rarely seduced by the breezy charm of politicians, got up from the press table to ask her a question.

“Every year health insurers are paying $180 million in natural therapies for which there is no evidence,” she said.

“You already have the review of the worth of those therapies conducted by the chief medical officer on your desk…”

“Can you tell us what that report said and what you are doing about it?”

The minister’s sentences broke like toasted waffle.

“…the issue of complementary therapies is an issue of great interest to Australian patients and certainly to private health insurers and those concerns about the budgetary implications of which you speak.

“But I don’t propose to take any piece in isolation out of the complex mix of interests, stakeholders (for want of a better word) and, of course patients and taxpayers, when we look at the important issue of private health insurance.

“To pick up one report commissioned by a previous government (not that necessarily has to be an issue in itself) and make it something that this government has to respond to almost at the micro level, without regard to the intersecting policies issues and interests, I don’t believe is sensible public policy.”

In desperation I put this in the Google language translator and my lap top’s coolers ran red hot with the futility of the task.

Work on the chief medical officer’s report began in 2013. It is in the minister’s locked draw, where it’s been since February.

It has remained there for a reason.

There is no justification for squandering taxpayers’ money on homeopathy, iridology and all the diverse species of woo when you’re preaching the necessity of making Medicare sustainable.

There is no justification when insurers themselves talk so piously about refusing to pay for poor quality medical care their members get from private hospitals.

The one explanation which dare not speak its name for why this money disappears down this rabbit hole is that the companies have to flog these extras to lure in the young and healthy, whom they need to keep the business afloat.

Not healthcare at all, just part of the marketing budget.

Ms Dunlevy’s question is important, not because pulling the plug on health insurance voodoo is going to save the health budget, but because it has the subtext: how serious is the government about this “waste” question?

Before the coming debate on rebates for cataract surgery or the spend on coronary stents or the cost consequences of a PSA test, before the hunt for all the low value rubbish on the MBS, the government is offered an uncontestable example of squandered health dollars.

And the response is to do nothing?


May Puzzles

1 May, 2014

banner-best-android-puzzle-applistThere are seven new Picture Puzzles and twenty “Mixed Bag” Questions at the top of the PUZZLES PAGE. You might like to use the Mixed Bag Questions as practice for the Tenth Annual Vic Skeptics Trivia Extravaganza on May 19. (See the EVENTS PAGE for further details)

To mark the NHMRC’s recent demolition of Homeopathy as a serious medical system, this month’s
MAY 2014 Skeptical Crossword
has Homeopathy as its theme.It’s necessarily a smaller crossword than usual – but it still comes with both “straight” and cryptic clues.

To stretch your brain just that bit more, try the
MAY 2014 Logic & Maths Puzzles



18 May, 2012

by Ken Greatorex

This is a collection of odds, ends and newsy bits that have taken our attention in the last month.

  • The Global Atheist Convention in Melbourne was as big an event as predicted. There was even an appearance by both militant Christians and Muslims. HERE. For Dick Gross’s review, see HERE

    Eugenie Scott

    The GAC was big enough to have its own fringe, in fact. Our own April Skeptics Café was billed as just such an event, featuring  the delightful Eugenie Scott. It may not have represented an enormous crowd for Ms Scott – she is much in demand internationally as a speaker – but it set a record for La Notte’s Club Room. Read the rest of this entry »

Skepticism in the Bush

1 November, 2011

by Russell Kelly

There is plenty to keep a skeptic busy in the bush; alternative medicine abounds and belief systems involving the weather and animals are plentiful.  The recent drought spawned a plethora of water diviners but lacking confidence in the Bureau of Meteorology, many believe that the best indicator of impeding precipitation is the squawking of Black Cockatoos. The myth has been around for at least 100 years but for some reason the squawking during the drought seemed to have less effect than the nude dance in the paddock.

Emu oil is currently very fashionable to cure a wide variety of maladies and snake-oil salesmen find easy pickings especially with weight loss scams. A long-running study has confirmed that rural women are more obese than their city cousins and they are more likely to use alternative medicines, so there are plenty of candidates for the wacky products.

Medical conditions triggered by pollens and sprays are endemic in the bush and so are the charlatans who peddle ‘natural’ allergy therapies including the instruments to test allergy susceptibility. The TGA has recently closed down the web site of one of our local operators who with her gadgetry could diagnose the offending allergen and then provide a rapid cure using the latest in homeopathy potions.

Read the rest of this entry »

The writings of Samuel Hahnemann

8 March, 2011

I admit to a certain curiosity about old homeopathy books. What do they contain? Is there any science in these books?  Exactly what did Samuel Hahnemann write that gained him such a dedicated following?

If you’re unfamiliar with Samuel Hahnemann, the founder of homeopathy, or the alternative medicine practice of homeopathy, you might like to read this introduction before reading any further with this post.

Generally, Hahnemann’s writings about homeopathy were translated into English not long after the publication of the original German versions. In all my reading about homeopathy, I’ve seen almost no comments taken from these translations of Samuel Hahnemann’s work.

My approach to this material will be: just because a book is old, that doesn’t mean I’ll ignore poor reasoning and throw away everything learnt in the last 200 years.  I’m looking for good evidence and logical reasoning to back up any claims.

Critics might suggest I’ve only looked into Hahnemann’s writings with the idea of cherry picking it and then dismissing it. Not so: if I find good science I’ll change my mind.  Hahnemann claimed to have done experiments. Read the rest of this entry »

Vic Department of Health’s “Better Health Channel”

7 March, 2011

by Graeme Hanigan

This is the background to a petition addressed to The  Minister of Health, David Davis MLC, calling for a review of the Victorian Department of Health’s Better Health Channel

Penelope Dingle was 45 years old when she died of colorectal cancer on the 25th of August, 2005. Had her cancer been detected and treated when symptoms were first observed 4 years earlier, she may still be alive today.  Instead of seeking medical treatment, Penelope put her health into the incompetent hands of a deluded Homeopathic quack.

At the conclusion of the inquest into the sad death of Penelope Dingle, the W.A. State Coroner made two recommendations. Read the rest of this entry »

A Critical Look at Homeopathy

10 July, 2010

Graeme Hanigan of “The Celestial Teapot” reviews Homeopathy.  Graeme writes:

The following explanation for homoeopathy is taken from the Australian Homeopathic Association.

Homeopathy is a complete system of medicine developed by German physician and chemist, Dr Samuel Hahnemann (1755-1843), based on the principle of “let likes cure likes”. This law or principle is based on a long held belief as far back as Hippocrates, the Father of Medicine, and other ancient healers such as Paracelsus, that substances that produce symptoms in a healthy individual can be used to treat similar symptoms in a sick person.

Let’s take a critical look at this statement.

Homeopathy is a complete system of medicine

This is an extraordinary claim requiring extraordinary evidence to support it.

developed by German physician and chemist, Dr Samuel Hahnemann (1755-1843).

This statement is supported by historical data and can be considered Read the rest of this entry »


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