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Sussan Ley holds onto Health portfolio

Sussan Ley holds onto Health portfolio - Featured Image

Sussan Ley has been re-confirmed as Federal Health Minister as Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull backs stability and experience in the key battleground portfolio.

Implicitly backing his Minister against critics who accused Ms Ley of going missing when Labor ramped up its ‘Mediscare’ campaign, Mr Turnbull said he had the utmost confidence in his ministerial team, and defended the Coalition’s messages and tactics against what he said was an “unscrupulous” Opposition.

While some internal party critics complained Ms Ley was all-but invisible during the marathon eight-week Federal Election campaign, aside from a widely-reported remark early on in which she indicated she had been overruled by Treasury and Finance over the controversial decision to extend the Medicare rebate freeze to 2020, supporters said she was effectively muzzled by Liberal campaign directors keen to shut down health as an election issue.

AMA President Dr Michael Gannon defended both Ms Ley and Shadow Health Minister Catherine King, arguing that both had been pushed into the background by the increasingly presidential style of modern electioneering.

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“It seemed to me from afar that the Coalition didn’t want to talk about health in the campaign, and that they had silenced Minister Ley,” Dr Gannon said.

“It was very much the Bill and Malcolm show, with occasional guest appearances by Richard Di Natale, Barnaby Joyce, and Derryn Hinch,” Dr Gannon said. “I think that that’s the reality of the way media covers politics now, it does become very Presidential.

“I would have loved to have seen a greater depth of analysis in the debate on health and in other areas. But I think that says more about our media and our politics than it does necessarily about either Catherine or Sussan, two very capable women who have the interest of patients across Australia at their heart.”

Ms Ley embarks on her second term as Health Minister with a swathe of major issues outstanding, including the threat to bulk billing from the extended Medicare rebate freeze, and fears about the impact on care of reduced hospital funding and cuts to bulk billing incentives for pathology and diagnostic imaging services.

The New South Wales politician, who was appointed to the health portfolio mid-way through the Government’s first term after Peter Dutton badly bungled attempts to introduce a GP co-payment, has largely turned her attention to other issues, and in the last term of Government initiated a swag of reviews and inquiries, most of which have yet to be finalised.

The most crucial of these is the MBS Review Taskforce headed by Professor Bruce Robinson, which is assessing all 5700 items on the Medicare Benefits Schedule. The Minister insists the aim is to modernise the MBS, though some are wary that the process is primarily aimed at achieving cuts and savings.

In addition, the Minister has commissioned trials of the My Health Record e-health system and the Health Care Home model of care for patients with complex and chronic conditions.

Ms Ley has also to bed down the Primary Health Networks system which, among other things, is being charged with organising and coordinating access to mental health services at the local level.

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While Ms Ley has been confirmed in her current portfolio, the role of Minister for Rural Health, held by senior National Party politician Senator Fiona Nash in the last Government, has been passed on to junior Nationals Minister Dr David Gillespie.

Meanwhile, there is speculation that Ms King may be dumped as Shadow Health Minister amid factional manoeuvring in the Opposition for frontbench positions.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten is expected to announce his frontbench team later this week.

Parliament is due to return on 30 August.

Adrian Rollins

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