Higher Medicare levy for those who refuse a vaccine?

A leading economist has called for Australians who choose not to receive a COVID vaccine to pay a higher Medicare medical levy to help pay for the cost of the pandemic.

Economist Saul Eslake says those who choose to remain unvaccinated against COVID – without an exemption – should be forced to pay more for Medicare in order to help repair the budget.

Mr Eslake says there are many other instances of people paying a higher Medicare levy as a result of the personal choices they make.

“Non-vaccinated people could pay a higher Medicare levy in the same way as those who earn above a certain level have to pay more if they don’t have private health,” he told The Sydney Morning Herald.

Read: An unvaccinated friend is 20 times more likely to give you COVID

“If they choose not to be vaccinated, that’s their choice, but it imposes a higher burden on the medical system.”

The amount raised from such a measure would be small, with more than 92 per cent of the national population over 16 having had at least one dose of a COVID vaccine and more than 87 per cent fully vaccinated.

Dr Stephen Duckett, director of the health and aged care program at the Grattan Institute, says that not only would such a move improve vaccination rates, but it would also go against the ethos of the Medicare system.

“Australia’s Medicare system provides universal coverage for medical and public hospital care. It’s not a system just for the poor, or just for the well-behaved. It promotes social solidarity,” Dr Duckett wrote for The Conversation.

Read: COVID booster jabs needed for older Australians: vaccine body

“Widespread vaccination was always going to be the best way out of lockdowns and the path to reopening Australian and state borders.

“[But] undermining Medicare’s universality – by excluding the unvaccinated from its financial protection – is a bridge too far.”

Punitive taxes and charges are used to drive other health-related behaviours, including taxes on cigarettes and sugary foods.

The Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) says that as vaccination status is not protected by discrimination laws, policies such as vaccine mandates and the proposed Medicare levy hike would be legal.

Read: Anti-vaxxers changing tactics against mandates

“Vaccination status is not a protected attribute under the Equal Opportunity Act,” the AHRC says.

“This means that discrimination law doesn’t offer protection for everyone who chooses not to get vaccinated, only for people who have one of the other protected attributes in the Equal Opportunity Act.”

For the moment, the federal government seems resistant to any changes to the Medicare levy especially ahead of next year’s federal election.

“It’s not something that we’re proposing and it’s not something that we’ve been considering,” federal health minister Greg Hunt told radio host Neil Mitchell.

“This can save your life, and the evidence is in Victoria, Australia, globally, that’s the best reason. To protect your family, your friends, and then to help us get back our way of life.”

Would you support an increase to the Medicare levy for unvaccinated Australians? Or do you think that would be a step too far? Let us know in the comments section below.

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Written by Brad Lockyer

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