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The Health Wrap: Private health insurance shake-up; World Obesity Day; Superbad superbugs

This fortnight’s Health Wrap from the Sax Institute takes a look at how the media covered three of the top public health stories that have been making headlines over the past fortnight. Enjoy this new format of the wrap and don’t forget to tweet us @SaxInstitute if you have any feedback on the changes to The Health Wrap or ideas you’d like to share.


Private health insurance shake-up

The biggest public health story of the past fortnight has been the Federal Government’s announcement of an overhaul of Australia’s private health insurance system. According to Health Minister Greg Hunt, these reforms will ‘make private health insurance simpler and more affordable’.

The Sydney Morning Herald reports that the aim of the reforms is to “get annual above-inflation premium price rises under control and prevent an exodus of customers that would threaten the entire industry with collapse”.

Under the reform package, private health insurers will be able to charge higher excesses on policies, in exchange for offering discounted policies to under-30s. There will also be improved access to mental health care services and coverage of travel and accommodation costs for people in rural areas in some circumstances. The package also includes a new simplified four-tier premium system – gold, silver, bronze and basic – to make it easier for consumers to select and understand their cover.

To balance the books, the Government has struck a deal with the makers of hip and knee prostheses and cardiac devices to cut the cost of these devices by $1 billion over the next four years. NIB chief executive Mark Fitzgibbon was quick out of the blocks to welcome this particular change, commenting in the Sydney Morning Herald:

Consumers in private hospitals have been paying wildly inflated prices for medical devices, sometimes as much as five times what it costs in the public system for exactly the same device.

It’s not good news for fans of yoga and other natural therapies, however, with News.com.au and others reporting that:

Rebates for unproven natural therapies will be banned. Those on the chopping block include Alexander technique, aromatherapy, Bowen therapy, Buteyko, Feldenkrais, herbalism, homoeopathy, iridology, kinesiology, naturopathy, pilates, reflexology, Rolfing, shiatsu, tai chi, and yoga.

According to the Sydney Morning Herald, this move comes after a review by the Commonwealth Chief Medical Officer found ‘there was no clear evidence of the efficacy of these therapies’.

Over at the Guardian, political editor Katherine Murphy saw the reforms as a pretty clear attempt to ‘woo young people‘ and to encourage them to take out private health insurance and help ensure the stability of the system, which relies on young and healthy people to balance older and frailer Australians.

Writing in The Conversation and on Croakey, however, the Grattan Institute‘s Stephen Duckett believes that while these changes may be designed to reduce price increases by expanding the pool of insured, young people, they probably won’t succeed:

Premiums have gone up at more than twice the rate of inflation over the past few years. And they will probably still increase at rates significantly more than inflation into the future, despite those announcements…the value proposition for the funds relies on them getting young people who don’t use health care much, to pay for a product they are unlikely to use.

For the last word on private health insurance, Michael Pascoe has an interesting take in the Age (and across Fairfax) on what is helping to fuel the private health insurance price surge: dementia.

Our ability to keep alive long enough to get dementia and then continue to keep alive means there is an increasing need for care for years before death. Alzheimer’s Australia estimates people with dementia will cost the nation $14 billion this year, with 244 new cases presenting daily.  The present cost includes dementia sufferers receiving high levels of care in nursing homes, but also 10 per cent who are receiving no care at all.

If you want to know more about how these changes could affect you, the ABC has a comprehensive ‘What will these changes mean for me?‘ based on your age and your health insurance history.


World Obesity Day

Wednesday October 12 marked World Obesity Day, a day to raise awareness of the obesity epidemic facing the globe. The 2017 report by the World Obesity Federation doesn’t make for healthy reading; on current trends, there will be around 2.7 billion adults worldwide who will be either overweight or obesity by 2025.

As detailed by Kate Aubusson in the Sydney Morning Herald, global obesity rates among five to 19-year-olds rose tenfold in the past four decades, from 11 million in 1975 to 124 million in 2016. If that trend continues it’s likely that there will be more overweight than underweight children by 2022. According to the Guardian, the global cost of obesity-related illness is expected hit $1.2 trillion a year from 2025.

If all of that wasn’t sobering enough, try this: “One in five children worldwide is now obese or overweight”. According to Dr Francesco Branca, director of nutrition for health and development at the World Health Organisation, roughly 7 per cent of children under five years old were obese (globally).

Here in Australia, obesity continues to be a huge problem.  As detailed in this excellent piece for Croakey by Deakin University’s Anna Peeters:

In Australia, if current trends continue, there will be approximately 1.75 million deaths in people over the age of 20 years caused by diseases linked to overweight and obesity, such as type 2 diabetes, cancer and heart disease, between 2011 and 2050. And the estimated direct medical costs of obesity are predicted to reach $22 billion in 2025 alone.

Thanks to the tireless work of many Australian public health advocates, when talk turns to obesity the next issue raised is almost always the sugar content in soft drinks and the potential for a sugar tax. In the week of World Obesity Day, sugar was once again part of the public debate, with both Croakey and the Sydney Morning Herald reporting that cutting the sugar content of soft drinks could save 155,000 lives and $8 billion. The research, led by Michelle Crino, at the George Institute for Global Health, found that a ’30 per cent reduction in kilojoules in all sugar-sweetened drinks would not only reverse Australia’s obesity crisis, but drastically reduce the number of people succumbing to obesity-related diseases such as stroke, type 2 diabetes and kidney cancer’.

Of course, public health advocates didn’t have the debate all to themselves. In The Australian (paywalled) Chief Executive of the Australian Beverages Council, Geoff Parker pushed back against the sugar tax. In his OpEd, he castigates public health experts and anti-obesity coalitions for “spending millions of dollars of public funds campaigning for a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages, despite there being no evidence that such a discriminatory and regressive tax reduces body weight or the incidence of overweight and obesity”.


Superbad superbugs

Finally, and sticking with the theme of long-ignored global challenges: antibiotic resistance. As reported by the Guardian, Professor Dame Sally Davies, England’s chief medical officer, states that:

The world is facing an antibiotic apocalypse…unless action is taken to halt the practices that have allowed antimicrobial resistance to spread and ways are found to develop new types of antibiotics, we could return to the days when routine operations, simple wounds or straightforward infections could pose real threats to life.

At a conference in Berlin convened by the Wellcome Trust and the Antimicrobial Resistance Inter-Agency Coordination Group (IACG), public health officials, medical professionals and policy makers came together to discuss the challenge of antibiotic resistant superbugs that have the potential, according to News.com.au, to ‘drag the world all the way back to 1928’ before the discovery of penicillin.

In an opinion piece for the Guardian, Ed Whiting, from the Wellcome Trust, states that since last year superbugs have killed about 700,000 people worldwide. He writes:

In Nevada in 2016, a 70-year-old woman died after breaking her leg, which later became infected with a superbug resistant to 26 antibiotics. In South Africa, multidrug-resistant TB is spreading. In the UK, untreatable strains of gonorrhoea are on the rise.

Here in Australia, we are far from immune to global pandemics, whether they be superbugs or otherwise, according to the regional director of World Health OrganisationDr Shin Young-soo. Dr Young-soo’s  comments came as the federal Health Minister Greg Hunt announced that Australia would commit $20 million to a regional pandemic preparedness and response plan to protect both Australia and its neighbours from future outbreaks.

Minster Hunt also signed Australia’s first regional health security agreement with WHO recently. According to the Sydney Morning Herald, this makes Australia the first developed nation in the region to do so. The agreement focuses on health security, universal access to healthcare, medical regulations and health system co-operation to respond to disaster and epidemics and will mean that Australia will be the subject of an external review of its disaster and epidemic preparedness.


Croakey reading you may have missed this fortnight:

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Croakey Conference News Service 2013 – 2019
2013 conferences
Australian Centre for Health Services Innovation Forum 2013
Australian Health Promotion Association Conference 2013
Closing the Credibility Gap 2013
CRANAplus Conference 2013
FASD Conference 2013
Health Workforce Australia 2013
International Health Literacy Network Conference 2013
NACCHO Summit 2013
National Rural Health Conference 2013
Oceania EcoHealth Symposium 2013
PHAA conference 2013
2014 conferences
#IPCHIV14
AIDA Conference 2014
Congress Lowitja 2014
CRANAplus conference 2014
Cultural Solutions - Healing Foundation forum 2014
Lowitja Institute Continuous Quality Improvement conference 2014
National Suicide Prevention Conference 2014
Racism and children/youth health symposium 2014
Rural & Remote Health Scientific Symposium 2014
2015 conferences
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Population Health Congress 2015
2016 conferences
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#cphce2016
#CPHCEforum16
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2017 conferences
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