Profiting from people’s ill health

Medicare is not a privilege, it is an absolute right.

Every month seems to bring a new announcement by the state government of another public health service to be privatised. Now the federal government is extending the threat to Medicare.

A delegation of nurses from the Northern Beaches recently visited their local MP, Bronwyn Bishop, a senior and influential federal Liberal Party politician, to voice their concerns about the privatisation of the new Northern Beaches Hospital. Her replies to their concerns were very instructive.

The nurses put it to her that the new hospital would have a profit rather than a patient focus. There is nothing wrong with making a profit, she told them.

When they reminded her of the dismal failure of the Port Macquarie Base Hospital privatisation she told them – that was many years ago, I don’t want it brought up, it is ancient.

All their concerns about service cuts, the impact on staff and the costs to patients she dismissed as “speculation”.

These replies are to be respected for their honesty but they do confirm what the NSWNMA has been saying for some time – that the federal and state Liberal governments have an ideological tendency that favours privatisation of public health services and that is increasingly reflected in government policy.

The reticence to look at past experiences confirms the ideological nature of this policy direction.

User pay agenda extended to Medicare

Bronwyn Bishop isn’t the only one in the Liberal Party who sees no problem with private enterprise making a dollar out of people’s ill health.

When he was Shadow Minister for Health, Peter Dutton indicated a Coalition federal government “would work with state governments to deliver services through private entities”. Now he is the Minister for Health he has indicated he is ready to implement that strategy.

Last month on the ABC’s 7.30 Report he asserted that Australia’s current spending on healthcare was unsustainable. When pressed he said Australians who could afford it should pay more for healthcare. He confirmed he was looking at introducing a Medicare co-payment.

In a speech the same day Minister Dutton flagged a greater role for the private sector and private insurers in primary care as the government wanted to “grow the opportunity for those Australians who can afford to do so to contribute to their own healthcare costs”.

Ironically, in the lead up to the February 8 bi-election in Griffith, Queensland, Tony Abbott dismissed such ideas as a “Labor scare campaign”.

Ironically the federal government led by Mr Abbott and ably assisted by the Treasurer and Health Minister, are developing the narrative that public spending is unsustainable and therefore services should be cut or privatised under a user pays mechanism, or direct handover to the private sector.

If this isn’t a scare campaign aimed at softening up the public for attacks on the likes of Medicare I don’t know what is.

Make no mistake, co-payments or any other initiative, in the guise of helping to fund Medicare by undermining the fundamental principal of universal access, will mark its death knell. This trend will see our health system move into an even more precarious state similar to the United States health system.

Medicare is under serious attack. It follows that if you can’t afford good healthcare or private health insurance then you can’t have it unless charity steps in.

We must defend Medicare

Medicare is not a privilege, it is an absolute right. Medicare is not free but funded by a 1.5% levy on income tax and general taxation. Australians are entitled to universal health care because they have paid for that right.

For the past 30 years Medicare, our universal health insurance system, has made our country a fairer, safer and better society to live in. No sensible political party would put that in jeopardy. Yet we have a federal government that won’t rule out such an attack as part of the Commission of Audit budget savings.

It’s up to all of us to make clear to this federal government that Medicare is here to stay.

Woe betide any politician or government that tries to take it away from us.