Public Health

Battle For Health Reform Moves Down Under

Map of Australia. i i

Health care overhaul grips another nation: Australia. iStockphoto.com hide caption

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Map of Australia.

Health care overhaul grips another nation: Australia.

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Tell us if you've heard this one before: A national leader is making a last push to convince state politicians to support a massive health care overhaul that would expand the federal government's role in the country's health system.

No, we didn't just travel back in time. We just went south of the equator. Down in Australia some of the health squabbling right now sounds a lot like what just went down in the U.S.

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd hit the home stretch on the Aussie version of the health care overhaul bill Tuesday when he got 7 of 8 Australian states to sign onto an agreement with him — leaving just Western Australia in opposition.

Rudd told The West Australian newspaper: "We're pretty confident we can work something through with our friends in the west," but added, "it might take a bit of time, a bit of an arm-wrestle."

As friendly as that arm-twisting sounds in his Australian accent, the opposition to the legislation there echoes some objections raised here. Rudd's plan would require each state essentially to give up the rights to a significant portion of their tax revenue, which would instead be used by the federal government to fund the country's hospitals.

The Australian health system (actually called Medicare) gives every citizen free access to hospital care and all other care at a subsidized rate. The problem is that the public hospitals are run by the states, and most aren't in great shape. Overcrowded hospitals, long wait times and doctor shortages are problems there. And Australians have to deal with private insurance companies when it comes to trying to get coverage for unsubsidized out-of-pocket costs.

But the plan to give the feds control over funding led one opposition health spokesman to tell Australian reporters: "Another bureaucracy in health is not going to provide better patient outcomes."

Colin Barnett, Western Australia's premier (the official Rudd has to persuade to enact the legislation), says that tax money won't be given up so easily, calling the plan "not acceptable to me and not acceptable to Western Australia," according to Bloomberg.

The plan, though widely supported by the other state premiers at this point, is still pretty vague. Rudd has yet to detail how much the program will cost in full and how it will be funded.

Despite that shortcoming, Rudd is busy touting a few popular, immediate effects reform would bring — a move he might have picked up from Obama. Those changes would include decreasing emergency room waiting times, adding beds to overcrowded hospitals and funding all primary care services, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.

Mertens is a writer for Kaiser Health News, a nonprofit news service.

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