The state of Australia’s healthcare seems to be in free fall with several news stories over the last two weeks indicating that our current system is simply unsustainable.
First, there was the news that private health insurance premiums are set to rise by an average of 6.2 per cent, with provider NIB indicating an average rise of eight per cent. This increase is the highest approved rise since 2005 and comes just 18 months after the introduction of means testing for the private health insurance rebate.
Such increases, however justified, will mean many may have to reduce their level of cover, or stop cover altogether. Matt Levy of consumer group Choice said, “With increases over time running well ahead of the consumer price index, it is obviously something that would be taking up a higher portion of household expenses than it would otherwise.
“So people should be testing the market. Look at your current cover, and look at your current provider and don’t find yourself paying a premium for the fact that you’re not shopping around.”
Next came the news that the Federal Government refused to rule out speculation that patients would be charged a $5 fee for a bulk-billed visit to the GP. It is believed that pensioners and concession cardholders would be exempt from this fee and families would be entitled to 12 visits per annum before having to pay the fee.
The co-payment proposal has been received by the Commission of Audit, which is currently reviewing all revenue raising and saving proposals, as a means to reduce unnecessary visits to GPs. A co-payment system was introduced under then Prime Minister Bob Hawke in the 90s, but was quickly scrapped by his successor, Paul Keating.
Federal Health Minister Peter Dutton refused to comment on the speculation, but Dr Don Costa, of the Doctor’s Reform Society, said that the fee would only increase the pressure on hospital emergency departments. In a statement he said, “Introducing a $5 co-payment is false cost-savings. People would stop seeing their GP, ending up sicker and going to hospital – which costs thousands of dollars a day versus the current $36 to see a GP bulk-billed.”
Former advisor to Tony Abbott, Terry Baines, who is behind the proposed plan, said it would be “perfectly reasonable for the states to charge a matching $5 co-payment on GP type visits to hospital emergency departments.
“If you present to an emergency department, just as if you present to a GP, that is the charge you are given,” he said.
And finally came the news on Saturday that Medicare is unsustainable unless it undergoes a major overhaul. In an interview with Fairfax, Peter Dutton made the claim when questioned about the introduction of the above fee when visiting the GP. “In the end, we want to strengthen Medicare and we want to strengthen our health system, but we can’t do that if we leave change to the 11th hour,” Mr Dutton said. “The threshold question is whether people want the health system of today strengthened for tomorrow, because at the moment the health system is heading to a point where it will become unmanageable.”
He also stated that given annual spending has increased over the last decade from $8.1 billion to $17.8 billion and that the increased pressure on health budgets as the population ages would only continue to grow with conditions such as dementia and diabetes becoming more prevalent. This makes it difficult to understand from where the funding would come.
Read more about private health insurance premium increases at ABC.net.au
Read more about proposed $5 bulk billing fee at SMH.com.au
Read more about Peter Dutton’s Fairfax interview at SMH.com.au
There is only one thing you can take from the above three news items and that is; if you’re sick and poor, forget it!
It’s no secret that our current healthcare system is struggling to cope with our sick and elderly and that the waiting list for procedures to cure non-life threatening conditions is only growing. This isn’t a recent phenomenon. It’s not a direct consequence of anything the current government, previous, or even government prior to that has done; it’s simply the cumulative effect of not acting earlier to combat the impact of a population which is not only ageing, but also more prone to lifestyle diseases.
Therefore, I simply can’t see how approving such a hike in private health insurance premiums or introducing a fee to see a bulk-billing GP will help.
Surely increasing private health insurance premiums to such a stage where people simply can’t afford to be covered will result in more pressure on an already stretched health system? Would it not make more sense to ensure private health insurance is more affordable, so when people need medical assistance they can simply have it paid for by their insurance company? Of course insurance providers have to make a profit but, as is also the case with the big banks, do they need to make such a huge profit? Is it not time that there’s an overall understanding that our health service simply can’t cope and forego this year’s premium increase?
Also, why would introducing a $5 fee to visit a bulk-billing GP stop people from visiting a doctor? There are very few people who visit a doctor without genuine need. Coupled with the difficulty in finding a doctor who bulk bills for those who don’t hold a concession card, this is trying to solve a problem which probably doesn’t exist.
It would, however, hurt those who live just on the breadline, those who need to visit their doctor frequently, but don’t have a concession card. Families with two or three children can easily find themselves visiting a GP more than 12 times a year for legitimate reasons, but can they afford to pay an extra $5 each time, on top of medication costs? Probably not.
So yes, the Medicare system quite possibly does need an overhaul, but making health insurance unaffordable and imposing an ineffective fee will only add to the problem, not provide any solution.
Would you pay an additional $5 to visit your bulk-billing GP? Should health insurance be more affordable? Will you reduce or cancel your private health care as a result of these latest premium increases? Do you think these increased charges will have a positive or negative effect on an already stretched health care system?