Australia's healthcare system could be taken in two very different directions after the nation votes in this month's federal election, according to the two people vying to be its stewards.
Health Minister Greg Hunt and Labor health spokeswoman Catherine King have tried to distinguish their plans for keeping Australians well and looking after them when they are sick in a televised debate.
Ms King talked up Labor's proposal to spend $2.3 billion over four years to improve Medicare coverage of cancer services and an extra $2.8 billion on public hospitals.
"This election offers a stark choice, and nowhere is that choice more stark than when it comes to health policy," Ms King told the National Press Club in Canberra on Thursday.
"It's a choice between a Labor Party with an ambitious health agenda, and a Liberal Party with no agenda at all."
Mr Hunt challenged the sentiment that his party doesn't have a vision for improving health care, saying it is focused on four areas: primary health, hospitals, mental health and medical research.
The coalition's efforts to improve primary health have involved increasing funding for Medicare, diagnostic imaging, and subsidies for making medicines more affordable, he argued.
It has also been making doctors more accessible to older patients over the phone and computer.
Hospitals, mental health centres and medical research have also been getting more cash under the current government, he argued.
Mr Hunt noted that Labor stopped subsidising all new medicines through the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme when last in government in 2011, a claim the party denies.
"That's why you need a comprehensive, long-term national health plan and you need a strong economy to back it," Mr Hunt said.
The minister also accused Labor of offering far too little detail on its new cancer investment and not estimating its costings correctly.
"They haven't done the work," he said.
But Ms King said the coalition simply had no plan to match its efforts to grapple with out-of-pocket costs for cancer treatment.
Labor also pledged on Wednesday to spend $115.6 million on initiatives to prevent people from becoming unwell, including $39 million over three years to implement a national anti-obesity strategy.
The opposition said it would "consider" forcing food companies to change the recipes of their products to make them healthier.
But Ms King stressed Labor wouldn't necessarily make the change "straight away".
Australian Associated Press
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