Health ministers from Queensland, Victoria and NSW reacted angrily when their federal counterpart gate crashed their media conference in Perth, fuelling a heated argument about state health funding.
They have accused federal Health Minister Tanya Plibersek of a "dodgy" interpretation of Australian Bureau of Statistics population data that would cut state health funding, claims that she vehemently rejected.
"While the Commonwealth claims the population only grew by 0.03 per cent in 2011/12, the Australian statistician had indicated it grew by 1.5 per cent over that period," NSW health minister Jillian Skinner said.
"This incorrect estimate of population growth will see money that NSW has already spent on patient care being stripped from the budget and returned to Commonwealth coffers."
Ms Skinner, along with Victorian and Queensland health ministers David Davies and Lawrence Springborg, said the federal government was clawing money back in a desperate bid to achieve a budget surplus and patient care would suffer as a result.
They were holding their media conference at Crown Perth before thrashing out the issue with Ms Plibersek at a quarterly meeting of health ministers later on Friday, when she arrived unannounced and took over the media spotlight.
"I wasn't expecting to be with you today but I've walked into the lobby and I saw a couple of cameras here and a few state health ministers and thought 'I've got to give a response to that'," she told reporters.
State funding would actually go up over the next four years, she said.
"The fact that state health systems have cut their budgets is also true," Ms Plibersek said.
"Queensland, over the next four years, will have a 21 per cent increase in Commonwealth funding.
"NSW will get a 23 per cent increase.
"Victoria will get a 26 per cent increase.
"Unfortunately what we have here are three health ministers looking for someone else to blame for the cuts that they have made to their health systems."
Mr Davies said the federal government was in fact stripping $403.5 million from hospitals this financial year.
It was positioning itself to pull back $1.6 billion from the promised $16.4 billion funding to the states over the next four years, he said.