Let’s talk about the Medicare Co-payment proposal…

The co-payment proposal was part of a paper (please refer to the first link at the bottom) prepared by the ACHR’s (Australian Centre for Health research) and Terry Barnes, the former adviser of Tony Abbott when he was the Health Minister and the Leader of the Opposition. The ACHR is a think tank funded by private health funds and private hospitals. It’s to be noted that Mr Barnes has also called for emergency department co-payments as well as GP co-payments.

Let’s recall some of the controversy when Mr Abbott was the Health Minister. There was the opposition of the abortion drug RU486 which lead to a parliamentary conscious vote to strip him of his power to regulate this area of policy. And his opposition to the anti-cervical drug Gardasil meant that he had to be ultimately over-ruled by John Howard. It has become very clear that this government is very much ruled by their ideology which has always been against universal healthcare. Instead seemingly content to attempt to convince us the 1.5% Medicare levy makes it free. The levy was raised to 2% in July 2014 by the ALP and with bipartisan support to cover the formerly known National Disability Scheme (NDIS), it’s not a hidden cost that many seem to think because of confusing messages and the three month narrative from our Government about their budget.

We subsidise the private health industry on average by 30% and up to 45% for over 65 year old’s. A private health insurance premium rise was approved by Health Minister Peter Dutton with an industry average of 6.2% and a high of 7.99% with NIB in December last year. This was the highest increase since 2005 with all 34 providers applying for fee increases. HCF and Medibank private already offer subsidised GP services and Bupa offers quite a few no out-of-pocket expenses. Could the increase be to cover the ‘additional services’ they will offer competing with  Medicare? Private healthcare Australia chief executive Dr Armitage (former LNP South Australian health minister) has been quoted as saying that allowing insurers to cover GP services would provide a “marvellous boon for preventative health care”, incidentally he now lobbies on behalf of insurers. Below is part of his seemingly nervous statement on the Commission of Audit report (COA) –

“The Private Health Insurance Industry would be very keen to see the figures on which the Commission has based its conclusions about important matters (such as totally changing the health landscape for higher income Australians) before any meaningful analysis of the report’s recommendations can be made.”

“The Industry notes that the Commission has identified the Government’s commitment to restore the Private Health Insurance rebate.”

There is perhaps merit in trials being done with WA & Victorian Governments that Mr Armitage mentioned regarding registered nurses with GP support and helping people with complex health needs, stay out of hospital. But I can find very little detail on this. What I have noticed is the rise of pathology and diagnostic imaging services.

You also know there is money to be made when Woolworth’s gets in on the action, when ‘free health checks’ to be performed by pharmacy students, graduating pharmacists and nurses in the supermarket aisles, was reported in the media. They are already trialling it in six stores in NSW and QLD. Of course the Pharmacy Guild of Australia is not pleased at the attempt to enter the pharmacy market of which the Government has reconfirmed it’s commitment, to not allow the retail giants entry. Would you call that free marketing, favoured by the likes of Rupert Murdoch and the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA)?

This all leads me to the conclusion that the co-payment proposal is an attempt to let Australia’s health care system be taken over by insurers and their idea of free marketing which does not translate to health and medicine. We have seen the American health system in tatters over the very same attempts to equate health with profit.

And as for the much mooted by Joe Hockey Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF)? How does that work when there have been massive cuts to Science and Research or the fact that we don’t have a Minister for Science? How does it keep Medicare ‘sustainable’ as is being continually said by Mr Abbott, Dutton and Hockey via main stream media?

For some perspective, America gave it’s Medical Research $30bn in 2013, Europe collectively gave $28bn and Japan $9bn. Australia gave just over $850mil to National Health and Medical Research (NHMR) in 2012. It seems as though Mr Hockey would like to leave a legacy but may be best to come up with your own ideas instead of pinching from the UK in this example with their ‘Wellcome Trust’ which is for Research Funding and Charitable activists.

User-pay policies won’t work for health and medicine in the same way as it doesn’t for using fire-fighter/emergency services or getting into your MP’s ear. Most Aussies I know are happy for all us to share the cost and having that piece of mind that it won’t come down to ‘It’s your money or your life’ if something happens to you. That is the unpredictability of it, there are just too may variables. I would suggest stop wasting anymore time and put it to a referendum, ask us what we want our taxes to pay for and if we are willing to pay, as I think you would be surprised. I think a healthy nation will only be more productive especially with Mr Hockey’s global growth targets. All it might take is raising the Medicare levy until more comprehensive Health reform is achieved.

Links of interest for you…

GP Co-payment paper by Terry Barnes

Mr Armitage’s nervous statement on the COA

Murdoch on Abbott’s grasp of the free market

A Nation built on the Fair Go and something Special


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