Category Archives: News Headlines

Only half of Medical Benefits Schedule Savings to be Reinvested in Medicare

Health Minister Sussan Ley has admitted only around half of the money saved by cuts to Medicare Benefits Schedule items will be re-invested in new procedures and services, …..

Ms Ley said that although some of the funds freed up by cutting items from Medicare would be spent on new listings, much will go on shoring up the Budget.

External link AMA: Only Half of MBS Savings to be reinvested in Medicare

$472 Million Cut from Aged Care

“Treasurer Scott Morrison delivered a blow to the aged care sector and demonstrated the government does not recognise the growing needs of caring for our ageing population,” said Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF). Federal Secretary Lee Thomas.

“The aged care sector provides around-the-clock nursing to the frail aged and many with complex and chronic conditions require 24/7 care.”

The ANMF is concerned about nurses conditions but the real threat is to the health of the aged. If the savings cant be found by hiring less skilled and lower cost staff the elderly will pay with reduced services and health.  Relatives will have to make up the shortfall out of their own pockets.

External link MYEFO Rips $472 million from aged care….

 

Australian Medical Association – Government shifts more health costs onto families

Professor Owler said the axing of the bulk billing incentives for pathology and diagnostic imaging services will increase the health cost burden for Australian families, with the poorest and the sickest being hit the hardest.

These measures are simply resurrecting a part of the Government’s original ill-fated co-payment proposal from the 2014 Budget,” Professor Owler said.

It is yet another co-payment by stealth.

Cutting Medicare patient rebates for important pathology and imaging services is another example of putting the Budget bottom line ahead of good health policy.

These services are critical to early diagnosis and management of health conditions to allow people to remain productive in their jobs for the good of the economy.

The AMA strongly opposes these measures, and we will be encouraging the Senate to disallow them.

……..

The Government is repeatedly cutting away at the Health budget despite there being no evidence of a health funding crisis.

Full press release, external link AMA Press Release

Sonic Healthcare, a global pathology and radiology giant, said that it has no intention of absorbing the cuts and will charge payments and reduce services in rural and regional areas to protect its business (SMH 17/12/2015). Other major health services suppliers have also indicated they will introduce a co payment.

Additional comment Cuts to Pathology and Diagnostic Imaging

Leading arbitration lawyer says there are critical loopholes in the Trans-Pacific Partnership’s investment chapter that leave Australia wide open

Extracts follow, read the full article at external link TPP’s clauses that let Australia be sued are weapons of legal destruction, says lawyer

George Kahale III is chairman of the world’s leading legal arbitration firm – Curtis, Mallet-Prevost, Colt & Mosle LLP.

“If the trade minister is saying, ‘We’re not at risk for regulating environmental matters’, then the trade minister is wrong.” 9.15 provides protections for ….environmental, health or other regulatory objectives….but the protection is negated by five words in the middle

re Most Favoured Nation clause – Essentially, … is tantamount to a classic wipeout move. It would enable foreign corporations from TPP states to make a claim against Australia based on the ISDS provisions in any other trade deal Australia has signed, no matter which country it was signed with…..foreign investors can cherrypick another treaty Australia has signed

ISDS claims are not heard in a standing court staffed by independent judges. Instead, claims can proceed in ad hoc courtrooms – a hotel room, for example – by three arbitrators hand-picked by the parties. Unlike a traditional court of law, these arbitrators are not obliged to refer to precedent and, since their decisions are not open to appeal, they are free to rule according to their personal opinion.

US Labor Advisory Committee recommends discard or reject the Trans Pacific Partnership

The US Labor Advisory Committee on Trade Negotiations and Trade Policy includes representatives of every major labor union and labor coalition in America.

Its report commences:
Dear Mr. President:
…….
The LAC strongly opposes the TPP, negotiated between the United States (U.S.), Australia, …… We believe that the Agreement fails to advance the economic interests of the U.S. and does not fulfill all of the negotiating objectives identified by Congress in the Trade Priorities and Accountability Act of 2015.
The threat to future economic gains here in the U.S. and the standard of living of our people will be put in jeopardy by the Agreement.
These threats will grow over time based on the potential for open ended expansion of the TPP to countries ranging from Indonesia to China.
The LAC believes the agreement should not be submitted to Congress or, if it is, it should be quickly rejected. The interests of U.S. manufacturers, businesses, workers and consumers would be severely undermined by the entry into force of the TPP.
Sincerely,…….

Full text, external link, WARNING 124 pages of pdf LAC Report
For a more readable interpretation, Leo W. Gerard, International President, United Steelworkers, external link Burn the TPP.

Government policy, not consumer behaviour, is driving rising Medicare costs

For the full article, external link to Grattan Institute, by Stephen Duckett

Extract follows:

…2014 budget……..growth numbers were presented as part of the government’s then mantra of a “debt and deficit disaster”, and massaged to create maximum shock and awe. The minister’s numbers did not adjust either for population growth or inflation.

…. a more legitimate set of growth numbers would still show Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) payments growing at an annual rate of 2.3% in real per-head terms, faster than growth in government expenditure overall (1.8%).

But this still leaves open the question of whether consumer behaviour is driving rising costs or whether there may be other causes.

A report released last week by the Parliamentary Budget Office shows that government policy has driven a significant proportion of the growth in MBS costs. In fact, of the A$325 real increase in MBS spending per head since 1993-94, all but A$74 has been the result of explicit government decisions.

ISDS Rulings – US Dolphin safe tuna labeling ruled a violation of the rights of Mexican fishers. Country of Origin labeling for beef and pork ruled a barrier to trade, US ordered to pay $1 billion per year.

World Trade Organisation rules against US dolphin safe labeling which has made significant reductions in the millions of dolphin deaths (another source says 97% reduction).

The US had already weakened the law in a series of amendments including replacing the import ban with a voluntary labeling policy, but ultimately lost and must now pay compensation to Mexican fishers or make further changes to the law.

Full story, external link WTO Ruling on Dolphin-Safe Tuna Labeling Illustrates Supremacy of Trade Agreements

In a similar way Canada and Mexico are attacking the US country of origin labeling (cool) for beef and pork which may see the World Trade Organisation rule it is a “barrier to trade”.

Update, Country of Origin labelling, 9th Dec 2015,

“The WTO authorized over $1 billion annually in trade sanctions against the United States unless and until the popular consumer policy is weakened or eliminated.

In the same article a history of US law changes reacting to Investor State Dispute Settlements (ISDS) via the WTO

“After previous WTO rulings, the United States has rolled back U.S. Clean Air Act regulations on gasoline cleanliness rules successfully challenged by Venezuela and Mexico and Endangered Species Act rules relating to shrimping techniques that kill sea turtles after a successful challenge by Malaysia and other nations. The U.S. also altered auto fuel efficiency (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) standards that were successfully challenged by the European Union.”

External link, WTO Orders Sanctions Unless U.S. Cuts Consumer Labels, Disproving Obama TPP Claims

AFTINET Trans Pacific Partnership Forum – Video

Public Forum 18th November, NSW Parliament House, Sydney, speakers were

Dr Patricia Ranald, Australian Fair Trade and Investment Network, on Overview of the TPP and foreign investor rights to sue governments
Jon Edwards, Doctors without Borders (MSF)on medicines,
Professor Kimberlee Weatherall on copyright,
Tom Skladzien AMWU economist, on labour rights, temporary labour.

View the video here, external link Forum Video

Professor Weatherall’s comments, “An insufficient policy framework for the 21st century” are relevant to health, she notes that the TPP will make law reform harder.

A three year extension on patents for monopoly higher prices on biologic medicines before cheaper versions become available.

The Trans Pacific Partnership will provide additional monopoly rights for the costly biologic medicines used to treat cancer and other serious diseases.

Up to three extra years of monopoly for Australians and significantly more in some other countries.

External link AFTINET: Higher Prices for Medicines. Stronger Monopolies…

Trans Pacific Partnership – only 0.05% GDP increase after ten years BUT costs and risks are many and long term

Estimated National Benefit

The Australia Institute stated in November 2015:

“…Modelling commissioned by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) …. estimates these agreements will:

  •   Increase GDP by 0.05 per cent in 2035, or an additional $780 million per year in today’s dollars.
  •   Increase employment in 2035 by just 5,434 jobs.
  •   Increase the value of Australia’s trade by about three per cent ie Increase imports by 2.5 per cent, Increase exports by 0.5 per cent.

Other modelling finds slightly more, possibly 0.5% extra GDP after ten years or total 0.7% in 2030:
Sydney Morning Herald Economics Editor Ross Gittens concluded from various modelling, that after ten years, GDP will be 0.5% higher. New York’s Quartz news outlet quotes modelling to say Australia’s GDP increase will be 0.3% after ten years (US will be 0.2%). The World Bank finds total 0.7% more in 2030 (US total 0.4% more) (SMH Jan 2016).

These figures are consistent with various economists saying that the US and Australia have very open economies, hence little benefit.

The Peterson’s Institute in the US said “we dont calculate any increase in the number of people at work (in the US). But about one-half of 1 per cent of the US workforce will move from import-competing jobs (typically in manufacturing) to exporting jobs (typically in services)…”

Costs and Risks

The biggest risks are that

  • there is no end date on a trade agreement, just negotiated amendments and journalists have pointed out how little negotiating power Australia holds when negotiating with the US.
  • the agreement includes ISDS provisions

Details will emerge as the thousands of pages (originally written by multinationals) are analysed.

Inclusion of ISDS provisions are a major risk. Eminent economist Joseph Stigliz makes this point:
“if these provisions were in place when the lethal effects of asbestos were discovered, rather than shutting down manufacturers and forcing them to compensate those who had been harmed, under ISDS, governments would have had to pay the manufacturers not to kill their citizens.”

External link Trans-Pacific Partnership: we’re selling economic sovereignty for little return