prevention

Australia’s Health Budget 2014: You want a cure? I’ll give you a cure.

Tonight the Abbott Government announced Australia’s annual budget. Enormous cuts to health are mooted, with an end to free healthcare, for the vague purposes of creating a “Medical Research Future Fund”. How this Fund will operate and what its’ aims will be are yet to be clarified. While I am a medical researcher myself and welcome any support to this vital area, it appears that the Treasurer Joe Hockey is talking about cures. This Future Fund could mean that a cure could be found for chronic disease, he says – like heart disease, for example.

This approach smacks of extreme short-sightedness to me. Nothing in the Budget has been allocated towards increased spending on preventive or public health. Instead we have compulsory co-payments for GP visits, which will deter patients from discussing preventive health concerns with their doctors. These visits will be seen as “non-essential” – but they are in fact the most important visits of all.

You want a cure? Here’s a prescription. Tax the heck out of tobacco and alcohol. Nobody, and I mean nobody (apart from tobacco companies and their employees) needs cigarette smoke. Nobody needs alcohol. We all enjoy it for sure, but we don’t need it. Tax junk food. Tax potato chips, crappy commercially-made biscuits and cakes that are loaded with trans fats, McDonald’s, hot dogs. Tax sugar. Hike the cost of lollies so much that they cost more than gold. Every parent will thank you. (But don’t tax chocolate, coffee or tea. These save lives!!) Make the cost of soft drinks astronomical. You want Coca Cola and diabetes, but say you don’t have enough money to see a GP? You pay $50 for your litre of sugar water.

The savings?

Almost $2 billion from not having to treat smoking-related illness

More than $15 billion a year from not having to treat alcohol-related ilnesses and injuries and from increased productivity (Note: this figure is based on 2004-5 spending).

As for sugar? Figures for Australia are unclear, but the estimated cost for global healthcare is at least $488 billion.

As for physical activity…

Encourage everyone to move. Maybe tax those who are fit and able and don’t do any exercise. Invest in public transport so people have to walk more to and from work. Hike up the fuel excise even further. Improve conditions for cyclists. Make lifts and escalators in office buildings painfully slow, forcing sedentary workers to walk up stairs. Make it mandatory for coffee machines and toilets to be a certain distance from desks so office workers have to move around the office more. Tax chairs so it’s harder to find one to sit on. Subsidise the cost of active gear and gym memberships. Abolish free-to-air TV.

The savings?

Almost $14 billion a year (from 2008 figures).

You do the math. Prevention is better than cure.

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