By DEAN EWINGTON*
IT seems that the ‘cost of living’ pressure we hear about every day is something that is concerning many households, and quite rightly so. The increase in essential items such as water, power , petrol is obvious and when combined with increasing government regulation of life and business, this is causing other staples like food to increase in cost at a fast rate. This is putting pressure on all of us to make ends meet and to have a little left over for recreational or social activities or even a holiday.
While the growth in the public service as a whole plays a part in this, it seems obvious to me that the disproportionate growth in health care costs is the single biggest driver of this cost of living increase. If health makes up around 40% of government expenditure and is going up higher than any other government services, we need to ask the question, is this a good thing? Or is it improving outcomes?
It seems that the universal view is that it is! When we have elections, the common priorities are always health and education. While I would fully support increases in education within reason as long as it is not just growth in bureaucrats and paper pushers, I would really like to know what the average person means by “do something about health”! I think we all need to think about what would this health system look like and just as importantly, what would it cost us? Also we need to think about this as a whole not just about our own personal needs or in terms of our current circumstances.
Does that simply mean more money on the same old stuff even if it is going to lead to further cost of living increases as governments try and recoup that cost in higher taxes and a reduction in other services, or no infrastructure projects going ahead which add costs in other ways. The reality is that cost of living pressures and health care cannot be separated and it is high time that we took our heads out of the sand and realised that the utopia of unlimited free healthcare at no cost to society is never going to happen.
When you combine this with an aging population, a generation of young people who have spent far too much time in front a of a screen, food that is high in calories but low in value and then the growth in the medical “business” with new drugs, treatments and procedures, how are we going to pay?
At a political level we are more focused on climate change that may happen and seem unwilling or unable to deal with the financial and social implications of something that is happening right in front of our eyes. If we do not rein in healthcare costs we are going to have nothing left over to pay to protect our environment.
Now I know that some will say that they have paid their taxes for years and it is their right to expect health care, but the bigger issue is if the healthcare we are being provided with is cost effective and delivering results?
We need to start asking ourselves and more importantly debating the tougher questions like: Are we spending too much on people who cause the illness through their own choices and also do we spend too on prolonging life in some situations. I don’t have the answers and I am sure that our attitudes to these issues will change depending on personal circumstances, but the fact is we need to debate the issues openly and as part of the wider debate on what we expect governments to do for us.
Personally I would love to see much less spent on drugs to treat blood pressure and much more spent of things to keep us active and healthy like better parks, gardens, playgrounds and sport fields. Also more allocated to teaching people how to exercise safely and effectively and less on all the treatments that are provide once you get sick.
I don’t think in theory that anyone can disagree with this paradigm shift and we have heard plenty of rhetoric about the need to focus on prevention, but the reality is that nothing has changed and it is unlikely to unless we as a society ask for tat. And to not do so and leave the mess to our kids would not be the right thing to do either. So let’s have the debate before it’s too late!
*Dean Ewington is the president of the Tasmanian regional council of Fitness Australia and managing director of Oceana Health and Fitness.