The introduction of co-payments to visit a GP could result in poorer health for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, according to Oxfam Australia.
Oxfam Australia’s Chief Executive Dr Helen Szoke said the co-payment of $7 would create a further barrier for many Australians, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, to accessing health care.
“Universal access to health care is a basic human right, and the Federal Government has just made it more difficult for many Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians in our community to achieve that basic right,” Dr Szoke said.
“Indigenous Australians can expect to live 10 – 17 years less than other Australians, babies born to Aboriginal mothers die at more than twice the rate of other Australian babies, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people experience higher rates of preventable illness such as heart disease, kidney disease and diabetes.
“We know that Aboriginal people currently under-utilise primary health care, and their untreated conditions can escalate more frequently to the acute, expensive, crisis end of care.
“It’s therefore disappointing that the Federal Government has made it even harder for Indigenous people to access their GP, often the first critical step towards addressing health issues.”
She said the lack of a Close the Gap Budget statement made it difficult to assess and monitor how the government would meet its 30-year commitment to close the gap on indigenous health inequality.
The government has signalled a cut of $534.4 million over five years on Indigenous expenditure through the consolidation of 150 programs into five, and a cut of $165.8 million to Indigenous health over the next four years.
“We are awaiting detail on where these cuts will come from and want to be assured that people won’t be worse off – but it’s difficult to see how that will be the case,” Dr Szoke said.
“The self-titled Prime Minister for Indigenous Affairs needs to explain his continuing commitment to Closing the Gap and how progress will continue to be made despite the government’s so-called efficiencies in already stretched health funding.
“This is vital if we are to build off the incremental gains we are making in the national effort to improve the dire state of health for many Indigenous people.
“In time, the improvements we are already seeing in child mortality and reductions in smoking rates will flow on to improvements in health and life expectancy, but only if the government maintains its commitment and investment, and works in true partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.”
She said that with more than 150,000 people participating in National Close the Gap Day in March, it was clear that closing the gap on Indigenous health inequality was still an issue of national importance.
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