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Smokers could pay through the nose for hospital care

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The Federal Government is coming under pressure from State Governments states to funnel $5 billion to be raised from a boost in the tobacco excise into the public hospital system.

At a meeting of the nation’s Health Ministers on 8 November, Federal Health Minister Peter Dutton confirmed the Abbott Government would proceed with a 12.5 per cent hike in the tobacco excise first announced by the previous Labor Government just before the Federal election was called.

The excise, which will add $5.25 to the cost of 20-pack of cigarettes is expected to raise $5 billion in the next four years, and the states – particularly Victoria – are keen to use the money to defray rising public hospital costs from treating smoking related-illnesses.

In a communique issued following the Standing Council on Health meeting, the Health Ministers “welcomed the announcement by the Federal Government that it will progress the 12.5 per cent increase in tobacco excise over the next four years to respond to smoking-related cancer”.

The Victorian Government has been hounding the Federal Coalition Government ever since it was elected to reinstate $1.4 billion that it believes was unfairly withheld from its health funding by the previous Labor Government.

Victorian anxiety has been heightened by the Abbott Government’s refusal so far to honour a commitment by former Health Minister Tanya Plibersek to contribute $100 million toward an upgrade of the Royal Victoria Eye and Ear Hospital.

The Victorian Government has also been leading the other states in voicing concern about the cost of treating overseas tourists and other visa holders using the public hospital system.

The Australian reported that in 2011-12, Medicare-ineligible patients failed to pay bills for treatment worth $40 million, including births, elective surgery and treatment for minor ailments.

Access to emergency care is free, but other treatment is not, and one option suggested is to ban from re-entry foreign citizens who have left the country without paying their medical bills.

A spokeswoman for Mr Dutton told The Australian the Minister understood the issue, and would work through it with the states.

Adrian Rollins

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