Can Medicare savings help improve our public health service?
The Liberal Party’s federal director Tony Nutt may have lambasted Labor’s ‘Mediscare’ campaign, but leaked documents could prove that there was a modicum of truth in its pre-election claims.
In his post-election press conference at the National Press Club in Canberra last week, Mr Nutt repeatedly referred to Labor’s Medicare privatisation claim as a “cold blooded lie”, that was aimed at putting the fear of losing cover into older and poorer voters.
Leaked documents provided to News Corp are said to outline changes to Medicare that would have a substantial impact on processing time for claims, especially on expensive treatments. Rather than being processed at the customer’s local Medicare office, claims are being sent to one of 17 centres nationwide, which is said to be resulting in delays.
A source told News Corp, “We were told yesterday in a team huddle that by December there will no longer be any face-to-face Medicare services, customers will only be able to claim digitally or through the service provider.’’
“Apparently we won’t even have a Medicare dropbox, the little old ladies will have to fill in a form and post it and we know how much mail already goes missing. Who knows if they’ll get their forms through?’’
However, Human Services Minster Alan Tudge said the claims were false and customers would not see any difference in processing times, with 82 per cent of all claims made at a service centre processed within 10 days. Of the changes, Mr Tudge said, “There has been a huge reduction in demand for face-to-face claiming so we are consolidating ‘back of house’ processing work to ensure we provide high quality, consistent services.
“Nationally, 96 per cent of all Medicare claims are lodged electronically – this is saving time for millions of Australians who no longer have to visit a service centre to claim.’’
Catherine King, Opposition spokeswoman on health and Medicare, responded by saying, "We've heard the Government is proposing to close down the remaining frontline services in Centrelink offices across the country for people accessing Medicare payments."
"For many older Australians a delay in getting their Medicare rebate back is a delay which means they're actually delaying going to see a doctor."
With reports last week that private health insurance will soon be unaffordable for more than one fifth of those currently paying premiums, the strain on the public health system and, by association, Medicare, is only likely to increase. So then, isn't it prudent that the Government tries to save money where it can?
There is a perception that older Australians are unable to deal with modern technology commonly used for making payments and claims online, but the reality is far from the truth. While some people, regardless of age, may struggle to get their heads around the digital world, many older Australians are embracing technology that saves them time and makes their lives easier.
By using technology to make claims for Medicare either online or at the point of service, older Australians, like many other people, are saving themselves a trip to their local Medicare office. And if the demand for such a service is no longer there, then providing it is surely just a waste of money.
However, any such money saved from the streamlining of these processes must be invested back into our health service. Extended waiting times for appointments to see medical professionals through the public health service or not being able to receive medicines through the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme is a lot more serious for peoples’ health than having to wait for their Medicare claims to be processed.
It’s time to envisage a health service that works for all, not just those who can afford to pay.
What do you think? Is it necessary to have access to a Medicare office? Are you able to process Medicare claims online? Or have you been affected by a delayed Medicare rebate payment?
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