Communist Party of Australia  

Home


The Guardian

Current Issue

PDF Archive

Web Archive

Pete's Corner

Subscribe

Press Fund


CPA


About Us

Why you should ...

CPA introduction


Contact Us

facebook, twitter


Major Issues

Indigenous

Unions

Health

Housing

Climate Change

Peace

Solidarity/Other


State by State

NSW, Qld, SA, Vic, WA


What's On

Topical


Resources

AMR

Links


Shop@CPA

Books, T-shirts, CDs/DVDs, Badges, Misc


 

Issue #1711      November 18, 2015

Editorial

Stripping Medicare

Medicare is on the chopping block and the vultures are circling overhead ready to swoop and take their pickings. Items covered by Medicare are about to be stripped back to “basics” – to a bare safety-net, with access means tested. These and other steps in the Coalition’s blueprint for the Americanisation of Australia’s health system are spelt out in the government’s national Commission of Audit report which was handed down in February 2014.* The private health insurance (PHI) companies are in the driving seat and the right foot is on the accelerator. After a clumsy false start with the Abbott government’s attempts to introduce a co-payment, the Turnbull government and Health Minister Sussan Ley are getting down to business.

The Audit Commission calls for those on higher incomes to “take greater responsibility for their own health care needs.” It says that they “should be required to [privately] insure for basic health services in place of Medicare.” (emphasis added) The Commission set a threshold of $88,000 for singles and $176,000 for families. If those earning above the threshold fail to take out private health insurance they will be subjected to a financial penalty through the taxation system.

The government is currently conducting a public “consultation” on PHI on the Health Department’s website (www.health.gov.au). It is in the form of a questionnaire which is designed to get the desired results and give the government some insight into what spin to use to sell an unpopular policy – the death of Medicare.

At present PHI funds are not permitted to cover out-of-hospital services such as GP and specialist consultations, diagnostic imaging (e.g. x-rays, CAT scans, MRIs) and pathology (e.g. blood tests). The questionnaire asks people to select three, in order of preference, from a range of services they would like private health funds to cover. It notes that “insurance premiums would need to increase in order to fund these services.” Already people are leaving in their droves because premiums are unaffordable.

In effect it will be a two-tier system – public minimal cover for those on the lowest incomes and private cover for everyone else. Even within private cover many would end up slipping through the net as they took risks with their health and selected which procedures and treatments they had cover for and which they would not.

The Audit Commission gives some insight into the objectives of the PHI companies: “The current rules … prevent private health insurers from covering primary care settings, including medical items and services provided through the Medicare Benefits Schedule. This limits the health funds’ ability to assist in improving the health outcomes of the elderly and chronically ill at the point of diagnosis, which is usually when they initially visit their local doctor.” What do they mean by “assist”? Insurance companies are not qualified health practitioners!

The Commission continues: “In many cases health funds are not made aware of when their members develop medical conditions and find out only after the member has been treated in a hospital and seeks reimbursement from the fund. Allowing health funds to cover primary care settings would make it possible for them to be more aware of members’ health risks. Funds could assist members to manage chronic conditions in out-of-hospital settings. This change is also needed to underpin the requirement for higher-income Australians to take out private health insurance.”

Once again, their aim is to undermine the role of qualified medical practitioners. The ultimate aim is control and increased profits. Just as in the USA, they will determine what is “necessary” and will be covered. It will no longer be a decision between health professional and patient. At the same time premiums would be deregulated.

The government’s first attempt to introduce a Medicare co-payment and abolish bulk-billing was defeated. Large protest rallies and campaigning by the trade union movement, doctors, the ALP, the Greens, the CPA and other left parties and the broader community saw the Abbott government pull its head in. The then Health Minister Peter Dutton was replaced by a fresh face, the more “consultative” Sussan Ley. But the agenda did not change. A co-payment is being introduced by stealth as doctors are forced to abandon bulk-billing for economic reasons. The government brought in a four-year freeze on Medicare rebates.

Now is the time for campaigning, for building the broadest and largest struggle to defend Medicare.

*See ncoa.gov.au/report Phase One February 2014 and Appendix Volume 1, page 95.

Next article – Yawuru man battles coal seam gas

Back to index page

Go to What's On Go to Shop at CPA Go to Australian Marxist Review Go to Join the CPA Go to Subscribe to the Guardian Go to the CPA Maritime Branch website Go to the Resources section of our web site Go to the PDF of the Hot Earth booklet go to the World Federation of Trade Unions web site go to the Solidnet  web site Go to Find out more about the CPA