By Denis Bright
Drawing upon research from US media networks, the ABC’s Four Corners offered a timely review of the hazards of commercial health supplements and vitamins in the Complementary Medicines Sector (CMS).
The quest for extended youth and vitality through consumption of pills and powders has an unstoppable appeal which is associated with a search for youth and restored vitality.
Complementary Medicines Australia (CMA) is keen to accentuate this trend. CMA is the co-ordinating business hub of over 200 registered firms in the complementary health sector. Health supplements now choke the aisles of local pharmacies, supermarkets and the shelves of online outlets.
In many Australian lower and middle households, expenditure on CMS products dwarfs the modest 2 per cent levy imposed on taxable income.
At the highest end of the taxation scale, systematic tax evasion leaks income away from Medicare at a rate of $20 000/million to inappropriate family trusts and other income alienation schemes. This encourages the federal LNP towards cost-cutting within Medicare by imposing new limits on bulk-billing of medical and ancillary services as part of its so-called budget repair strategies.
CMA cheers on the phenomenal growth of its market share in Australian health for Over the Counter Products (OTC).
Ironically for committed providers of alternative heath supplements, the CMA’s budget submissions advocate the LNP’s ideals of fiscal discipline and less regulation of its own sector by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA).
This growth in expenditure on CMS products challenges Australia’s traditionally modest expenditure on health within a well established social market sector. Australia’s overall official health expenditure is just over 10 per cent of GDP, compared with 17 per cent in the US which has a lower commitment to public health.
Australia’s supervision of the complementary medicine sector is under The Therapeutic Goods Act 1989 (Cth).
Providers of the complementary medicines and supplements pay a registration fee with the TGA and a nominal amount for testing of their products. Products which do not comply with health standards are routinely taken off the list of OTC items despite complaints from some CMS providers of over-regulation.
While this testing of OTC products is almost cost neutral to the Australian Government, there are opportunities for the TGA to market its own additional tick of approval which gives consumers access to added information of the efficacy of the products being marketed.
Opportunities also exist for the investment of seed capital from the Australian government or commercial investors to expand the role of the Therapeutics Goods Administration (TGA) to provide more comprehensive consultancy advice for Australians and perhaps developmental assistance to developing countries in the monitoring of their own OTC products.
Rather than watch the leakage of health expenditure towards the CMS sector, the Queensland Labor Government suggested an increase in the current Medicare levy at the recent Council of Australian Governments (COAG) forum as a more equitable alternative to a proposed return to state government income taxes.
Insiders within the federal LNP are ideologically committed to a more market-oriented health model for Australia and this has strong support from CMA.
In the words of the Assistant Minister for Innovation Wyatt Roy, the future is in better hands with business corporations at the helm:
Wyatt Roy, Q&A 28 March 2015: “I’m a Liberal, I’d like to see lower taxes, less regulation, less government intervention in your life so you can do what you do so well which is be an incredible world-changing entrepreneur, that’s where I think the debate should go … these sorts of tax changes we will have to do over four, five, six budgets but if we keep ourselves ahead of the global race, I am optimistic.”
Four Corners has alerted Australians against following the US market-model in public health by introducing a range of CMS products with limited or negative therapeutic value that have slipped through the regulatory limits of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Denis Bright (pictured) is a registered teacher and a member of the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA). Denis has recent postgraduate qualifications in journalism, public policy and international relations. He is interested in developing pragmatic public policies for a social market that is quite compatible with contemporary globalization. Denis will be absent for three weeks in Southern Europe from the 19 May enjoying some of the dividends from his Q Super Fund. He will report back later in the campaign as trends become more firmly established by mid-June.
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