Healthcare in turmoil

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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 

Opinion: Sick and poor to suffer

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?

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Written by Debbie McTaggart

80 Comments

Total Comments: 80
  1. 0
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    Just joined a fund
    DUH !!!!!!

  2. 0
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    The proposed $5 fee for visits to the GP should be kept in perspective. I think the intention of this proposal is to reduce visits to the doctor for complaints of a less serious nature such as bruises and ankle sprains which do not, as a rule, require Xrays or prescription medicines for treatment. People with these and similar complaints attending hospital emergency departments would increase waiting times in emergency departments unless a similar $5 charge were to be instituted should also be added to the discussion. Perhaps patients with chronic ailments needing more frequent visits to the GP should have a cap placed on the charges for renewing or changing prescriptions for the same medical condition. I would suggest that the cap be placed at 4 x $5 – $20 for a six month period for people returning to the GP to have their treatment and condition monitored.

    So why the fuss about a $5 charge? That would just about buy a Big Mac or a glass of beer these days. Then the bulk billing GP appears to be a dying breed anyway, so I suspect that the “problem” will diminish in time to insignificance.

  3. 0
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    As a couple we pay BUPA $141 per fortnight, add on the 30% that the Govt contribute brings it up to $183 per fortnight, the proposed 6% rise will bring it to $194 per fortnight, that’s $97 per week, $5051 per year, also on a regular basis cover for some items is discontinued. The whole insurance industry should be investigated.

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      I agree – far too much. I dont pay any because first off it was tax deductible until Whitlam brought in Medibank and then decided to drop it as lost rebate. So from then on after costs began to rise as the population and also pay for doctors and nurses were being demanded regularly as with Teachers. We decided to open a medical account and pay in a premium we would have for any treatments and it will well pay funeral costs even though as paid for lots of house replacements like aluminium windows and HWS lately as retired and no help and GFC wasnt great. Our family youhngsters are doing the same and find it beneficial – you know nothing free is ever used properly always gets messed up by some and majority suffer.
      Instead of 30% rebate I would say preferable for a tax deduction then it would be taken up and valued.

  4. 0
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    I would be sustainable if we did not service so many freeloaders..

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      I agree with you Jurassicgeek,

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      I VISITED MY DOCTOR TODAY, just for repeats on my current medication, i was shocked when i walked in, to find the waiting room almost full of indian or african people, and while i waited 5 others arrived, non of whom paid, one could not even understand what the receptionist was saying, in regard to filling out his details, in the 6 years i have been going to this doctor, i have only seen 1/2 muslins or indians,its hard to know what they are, i dont mean this dis respectfuly, but all are black, some in robes, others partly covered, its hard to say where they are from, but i suspect there atre a lot more here than we are being told, would be interesting to have figures on just how many are here, as for the hospitals, a few years ago you paid to see a doctor at the hospital, you were means tested and paid accordingly, a piece in the herald sun last week suggesting chemists could be responsible for doing repeat scripts, i think its a great idea, i always use the same chemist, and he knows my history as well as my doctor, i would be quite happy for him to do my scripts, save the doctors time and at times i have found my chemist to be more helpful than a doctor, we could pay a small fee to the chemist,

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      Catsahoy I can see your point regards your chemist doing your repeat scripts but it is fraught with danger for this to happen.
      Your doctor can check if the medication is having the required affect , your chemist cannot do this for obvious reasons. Your doctor can change your medication if he/ she thinks it necessary your chemist cannot.

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      Bofor I beg to differ on your last sentence. At our local Medical Centre in ( Oop’s I better stop there ), we book to see a nurse for repeat prescriptions. My Doctor is a white Dutchman, and the nurse gets a black Sudanese who I have never met to sign the script. I believe he gets 25 bucks per signature, which is not bad for about 10 to 15 seconds of his time. I believe all the Doctors at the Medical Centre take it in turns to collect that little bonus, on a daily basis.

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      Young Simmo if I recall correctly you are a Sand Groper. Let me assure you as a resident of The Sunshine State it is illegal for any doctor to sign or issue a script without seeing the patient. I suggest you check the legality of the current procedure with the W.A. health authorities.
      Sounds dodgy to me.

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      Correct Bofor, I am a Sandgroper, up in the sun actually. The practice of nurses writing prescriptions and the Doctors signing them has been going on for quite a few years actually. It does speed up the process as I can usually ring up and get an appointment within 3 or 4 hours which is better that a week or so when you are down to the last Tab or 2. Our Medical Centre is a reasonably sized professional outfit, so I can only assume they have crossed the Tees and dotted the Is

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    We already pay a Medicare levy to cover this expense. Abbott Government- stop trying to make workers pay for the top end of town! I’m afraid that there will be more of these sorts of attacks on families in 2014. I’d also like a federal government to refuse any future requests to increase medical benefits levies by these health companies. Start at the top and reduce the salaries of CEO’s! Then, voters would know you are serious in looking after the national interest, not just the interest of a privileged few.

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      bofor, i see your point ,re the scripts, but i didnt mean for the chemist to take over, but some of my scripts i get 4 repeats,so the doctor doesnt see me anyway, maybe the chemist could do 3/4 scripts then you HAVE to see doc again,for the reasons you pointed out, YOUNG SIMMO, the doc i had previous to this one, was like your, and wrote scrips out and others would sign them, he was reported and got into a almighty mess, he left that practice and went down the coast so dont know how he is going now,

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      bofor, i see your point ,re the scripts, but i didnt mean for the chemist to take over, but some of my scripts i get 4 repeats,so the doctor doesnt see me anyway, maybe the chemist could do 3/4 scripts then you HAVE to see doc again,for the reasons you pointed out, YOUNG SIMMO, the doc i had previous to this one, was like your, and wrote scrips out and others would sign them, he was reported and got into a almighty mess, he left that practice and went down the coast so dont know how he is going now,

  6. 0
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    Remove the private health rebate and use the savings to cover the cost of the public health system. I have and will continue to pay private health and don’t believe the rebate gives value for our health dollar. The alternative is a radical overhaul of the tax system – a most unlikely scenario.

  7. 0
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    There don’t seem to be many bulkbilling doctors that are around here. My children’s families always have to pay the full cost then claim some of it back from medicare.I’m lucky that i am bulkbilled because I have a pension card. However I wouldn’t mind paying a $5 fee, in fact I hate going and only attend to get my script renewed.

    Actually when there’s only a renewal it would be nice if the chemist could do it after checking the bloodpressure.
    I have kept private cover because it’s nice to know if I’m ill I can probably get into hospital a bit quicker.

  8. 0
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    I agree with Wally in his comments regards to the fact that a $5 charge would buy a Big Mac.

    Never ceases to amaze me that the so called poor and destitute in many cases can still smoke cigarettes and drink alcohol but cannot spend two bob on their health.These people smoke in the house with their children present and then head to the “Gimmee” doctor with a child whose eyes water from the air laden with tobacco smoke.

    Wally, as usual, has read the comments in the article that asks “What are our suggestions that could help”. So before other contributors start blaming the ousted Labor Party or the new government or the Pommie cricket team, God bless their little cotton sox, read the article as Wally has.

    My Ideas. $5 charge including visits to Emergency Departments at Public Hospitals.
    A safety net of say 24 visits per year per patient. For the mathematically challenged that is 2 visits per person per month. After this the qualifying person pays nothing or a reduced fee of $2.
    Again for the sake of not blowing brain cells this would mean a person visiting the GP and or the ED on 52 occasions in a year would pay a total of $176 PER YEAR.
    24 @ $5= $120
    28 @ $2= $ 56
    $176 per year to receive 52 visits or 1 each and every week.
    In the event that more than one child under the age of 16 years visits with a sibling for the same medical condition to the same GP at the same time the charge is for ONE person IE: $5 0r $2 as applicable.

    Over to the rabid “I pay my taxes and it is not my job to care for myself, that is someone elses job” bunch. GOOD HEALTH TO YOU ALL IN 2014.

    As regular readers of my comments will be aware I am anti the “Gimmee” mentality that exists in our society.

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      And play the pokies X-Lotto, Bingo etc. I know a family that was in arrears with water rates, yet continued to play bingo every week. What’s more if they didn’t have cash in their purses/wallets they would drive a considerable distance to a ATM to get money.

    • 0
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      I agree with everything you said Bofor. Last year husband and I had 5 visits each to the doctor; none of which were for anything important at all; three were for prescriptions. We are both over 70 and pay private health insurance plus the medicare levy plus even more. We don’t smoke and drink sparingly and watch what we eat and have had not had the flu for years because we have the yearly flu shot.
      Re those who are on welfare and smoke and drink…you have got to remember they have their priorities and smoking and drinking come before anything else…don’t you know that. The government and the taxpayer will pay for everything else.

  9. 0
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    First, there should not be PRIVATE HEALTH INSURANCE. It is a scam & if we the people of Australia did not fall for the scams they would not happen anymore.

    • 0
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      Second, this latest scaremongering is just the usual & typical tactics of CRYING POOR, from – especially the Liberal / National Party’s.
      The TIGHTFISTED Liberal / National Party’s are in the process of re-allocating MONEY to their favorite haunts & the scare tactics are so as to frighten the people of Australia, so as to distract the people of Australia from looking & seeing the reality.
      It is called “the Henny Penny & the sky is falling routine”
      AND GUESS WHAT …/? IT WORKS LIKE A CHARM EVERY TIME.

      If there were really MONEY shortages in the healthcare arena –
      The RETAINER which is paid to the medical profession (some $200.000 per annum & this is before bulk billing monies are paid) for nonperformance, would be reduced.

      Then again, there have been rumors & for several years now, that the Australian Health Care System is being SOLD OFF to the Pharmaceutical Industry.
      And simply because it is too much work for the government. Apparently MONIES are pouring out of the public purse & into the pockets of the medical profession like water from a tap.
      The Political Arena is puzzled as to what to do about it & loathed to confront the dynamo that is the medical profession…..so they are passing the buck.

    • 0
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      According to The CEC Party reports & due to the new Obama Care System
      The United States Healthcare system is being torn down – reduced.
      DOCTORS ARE LOOSING THEIR JOBS AND FOR GOOD
      Today it is being implemented in the United States.
      Make no mistake, like the copycat that Australia’s Political Arena is/are.
      Tomorrow the political arena of Australia will be implementing it in Australia.
      DOCTORS IN AUSTRALIA WILL BE ON THE DOLE CUES…. 100% FOR CERTAIN.

    • 0
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      And
      Just deserts I reckon !

    • 0
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      Private Health Insurance is Con Job…Every year the price goes up and the benefits go down…the excess becomes more frequent…

  10. 0
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    I would agree with the proposal that $5-00 fee be charged for a doctor visit even though my wife and myself have to make constant and regular visits to our G. P. We are both on the age pension and next year will both be in our 80’s
    I hope that before such a charge is introduced that a complete audit should or would be made of the number of and classes of people who are currently able to hold “concession” cards that currently entitle them to hold such cards and also that such cards be Means tested to eliminate those people on high superannuation and family trusts payments I believe that under the current Pension Rules a pensioner who owns their own home and is partnered can have up to nearly a Million Dollars in investments etc and still qualify for a part pension The sooner this mess is sorted out the better provided it done fairly and the results do not make things better for superannuated public servant and worse for the working class

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      Positive step in the right direction as they means test the age pension so should all benefits be means tested and health care cards as well plus of course we should have had the Smart Card but that was ousted as on privacy and liberty issues. And Retinal scan too cost huge maybe but savings greater. Stops the rorting going on with too many using the same one card. No photo and no one ever asks for ID just address etc.

    • 0
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      BigVal…Means test the age pension???…you cant get the age pension without being means tested…
      We dont need the smart card because they already know what the need to know without it..data matching etc etc …The big problem is we are supporting too many freeloaders, boat people, immigrants,Islamics who wont work in a pink fit..
      We could have a really great Health Care system if only we could stop spending money supporting other countries and corrupt regimes…THEN money would not be the problem..

    • 0
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      Why should they not be entitled to a pension same as you ?
      They have paid their taxes and saved their money
      Why at the end of it should they not also have the benefit
      Good for them if they saved up and have a nice home.

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