An Independent Queensland Regional & Rural
(Cairns... Far North Queensland)
MEDICARE and the PUBLIC HEALTH SYSTEM
In recent years our public health system has been under significant strain, and yet at the same time billions of taxpayers dollars per year are being diverted by the Howard government into incentives for private health insurance that only benefit around 30% of the population. It's time to send governments a message about Medicare and our public health system. The community demands more funding for public hospitals, nursing homes, community services and other publicly funded health services – funding to maintain and extend these services.
The health of ALL Australians is too important for us to remain silent!
Medicare and our public health system are under threat.
Over the last few years the pressure has been steadily mounting. Public hospitals and other publicly funded health services - such as community services and nursing homes – are struggling to cope with demand.
The Government says it wholeheartedly supports Medicare, yet at the same time they are under-funding public hospitals. Health policy changes implemented by this government are slowly undermining our universal health system.
The provision of adequate funding for public health services is a critically important issue for a decentralised state like Queensland.
Outside major population centres there are very few private hospitals, so incentives for private health insurance would mean little to people in the bush.
An artificial crisis is being created in public hospitals, in particular by the government diverting billions of dollars of taxpayers' money away from Medicare and the public system to provide incentives for private health insurance.
This is grossly unfair - the 70% of Australians who rely totally on our public health system are subsidising the 30% who have private health insurance.
These incentives for private health insurance are costing the government around 20% of what it spends on public hospitals each year and the cost has blown out to exceed original costing by over $1 billion per year. Yet we all know that in recent years the pressure on public hospitals has dramatically increased and continues to do so despite these incentives. Between the years of 1991-92 and 1995-6, for example, there was a 22% increase in public hospital admissions.
Even the richest Australian citizen is reliant on public health services in emergency situations, especially if the emergency occurs in a rural or remote area where the closest health service is a public hospital.
All Australians benefit from Medicare and our public health system, whether by services actually provided or the research and training of medical and other health professionals that occurs largely in the public system.
What is Medicare?
Medicare is Australia's universal health insurance scheme. It was introduced in 1984 to ensure that all Australians have access to medical and hospital care when they need it. With the exception of Queensland, where there has been a 'free' public hospital system since the 1950's, the majority of Australians had to purchase private health insurance or pay for their own health care bills prior to the introduction of Medicare. Medicare is a significant social wage issue for workers and non-workers alike.
Without Medicare the cost of health care would increase significantly.
What does Medicare cover?
Medicare provides benefits to all Australians for:
People can choose the treating doctor for out of hospital services.
Some facts and figures:
Total expenditure on health care in Australia was about %47.2 billion in 1997-98. This is equivalent to 8.4% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
Governments in Australia provide almost 70% of total health expenditure in Australia (Commonwealth Government 45.5% and state and local governments 23.6%)
The biggest share of funding (around 39% in total) goes into public hospitals.
Around 20% of the funds go to services provided by private doctors, 12% to pharmaceutical costs and 7.5% to nursing homes. The remainder of around 22% goes to fund research, ambulance, non-medical health professionals, aid and appliances and community and public health.
Why support Medicare and public hospitals?
If Medicare was no longer universal, a two-tiered health system would become entrenched - one for the well off and one for the poor.
In Australia today, no one need fear the financial cost of illness, but will this always be the case?
Australians like Medicare because it is efficient, effective and it is fair. It is a universal system where access to care is based on need and not ability to pay. This is a basic human right. The existence of such a system is the mark of a just and fair society, one where social considerations mean more than economic ones.
We do not want to see the introduction of a two-tiered US style health system in this country. Of course there is always room for improvement, but our basic system is sound. Additional funding is urgently required to maintain and extend services. The community must also be genuinely engaged in the debate about our health care needs and expectations and how we fund these. We must direct governments to reposition priorities away from the over-emphasis on the economic 'dollar bottom line'.
Most Australians would be worse off if Medicare didn't exist. In a recent article titled 'Medicare-less', the Australian Consumers' Association estimates suggest that low and middle-income families would be the biggest losers if Medicare was abolished as a universal health system. For example, a family of four on a single wage of $45000 per annum would be between $2681 and $9373 worse off if Medicare didn't exist. Indeed their estimates indicate there would be very few winners in a 'Medicare-less' society.
The time has come to remind the Government of the importance of our universal health system and the strength of feeling in the community about this issue.
Australia's health is too important to not fight for it!
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Written and Authorised by Selwyn Johnston,
Cairns FNQ 4870