The cheque’s in the mail?

Colin Barnett’s optimistic 3% cost savings hit a brick wall when head health honcho Dr Peter Flett admitted there was a $26m blowout in the Health Department’s budget. The already straining Department could find only $34m of a requested $60m budgetary slash and burn this financial year. Dr Flett promised a parliamentary committee (tantamount to ‘the cheque’s in the mail’) that the Department would compensate by finding savings greater than 3% in future years. 527 FTE staff can expect to lose their jobs by the end of the year.

Passing the buck

Responding to the Health budget blowout, Health Minister Dr Kim Hames said the health budget is ‘under considerable pressure’ but he denied rumours the budget hole would balloon out to $230m. Taking the political football by both hands, Kim then blamed McGinty’s mob for the situation: “There is certainly not enough money there and that’s your [Labor government’s] fault, not ours. The money was short $120m on the day we arrived,” he told parliament. Part of his budgetary solution could be a public/private partnership (presumably similar to the arrangement at Joondalup) to fund the new Midland hospital, due to be opened in 2014. Kim said, “I’m not going to rule it out, I’m keeping all options open.”

Free flu vax!

Following the success of last year’s free influenza vaccination program for WA kids (aged six months to five years), CSL and Sanofi Pasteur have offered to extend the trial for Perth children into 2009.  The state government will fund the vaccine for under-fives in rural and regional areas. Minister Hames said, as a result of last year’s effort, “There was a 50% decrease in the number of confirmed flu cases in the under-five age group last year compared to 2007, despite equivalent flu seasons.” Free flu vaccine will also be available to anyone aged 65 years and older, indigenous Australians aged 50 years and older, and indigenous Australians between 15 and 49 years with a high-risk medical condition.

Health insurance hike

Federal Health Minister Nicola Roxon has signed off on an average 6.02% hike in private health insurance premiums effective from April 1. The insurers, who provide coverage to about 8 million people, were quick to blame the current state of the economy, rising health costs, and the government itself for the increase. In fact, they initially applied for a 6.43% increase but the Minister negotiated them down. Minister Roxon attributed the increase to a 10.5% jump in health insurance payouts last financial year, as well as the financial crisis. Naturally, she denied the insurance hike was linked to her decision to raise the bar on the Medicare levy surcharge last year, which removed the incentive for 250,000 people to take private cover.

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