GST red tape leading to Aussie health crisis

Picture: AAP Image/Mick Tsikas
Picture: AAP Image/Mick Tsikas

Over the past five weeks Scott Morrison and Bill Shorten have made numerous health promises, totalling billions of dollars.

Yet both leaders have failed to address an issue standing in the way of thousands of sick Australians being able to access affordable treatment that could make a real difference to their health and wellbeing.

The research is indisputable - exercise is medicine.

It is increasingly being prescribed to patients with cancer, diabetes, depression and a range of other illnesses and conditions.

The benefits are numerous - exercise makes people feel better, it builds up their strength and helps them lose weight. It can even get some people off medication and prevent health relapses.

So why then are Australia's 5000 accredited exercise physiologists the only allied health professionals in the country who are not classified as a GST-exempt health service?

Every day, I manage chronically ill people who need help with exercise plans to improve their health.

Just as we start to make some progress, many of them are forced to stop seeing me because they can't afford ongoing consultations. It's a sad situation confronting many of my colleagues across the country.

Many of our patients go on to become a burden on the health system - they often need expensive drugs or surgery.

Canberra collects less than $20 million from exercise physiologists. It's a drop in the ocean compared with the health savings that would result from keeping people out of hospital and off medication.

Over the past decade, the government has refused to fix this appalling situation and has repeatedly failed to explain to us why they insist on imposing an unfair tax on our patients.

It's a tax anomaly and it doesn't make any sense.

It puts unnecessary financial pressure on patients and leaves others out in the cold.

Politicians on both sides don't seem to care. But this is a big issue for our patients - most of whom are older, are living with disabilities or with a health condition such as cancer, diabetes or dementia.

The government is happy to continue collecting money from these people, instead of helping them get better.

Forcing people to pay extra for a vital health service is unfair and cruel.

The solution is simple: stop taxing our patients.

David Beard is the national spokesperson for Exercise & Sports Science Australia.