For Annie Butler, Assistant Federal Secretary of the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation, the birth of grandson Jack brought home the importance of Medicare.
Little Jack’s mum, my daughter, is a type 1 diabetic – this means she has the type of diabetes that usually starts in childhood and requires lifelong therapy. She needs several insulin injections every day to stay alive.
But with guidance and oversight from expert health professionals she can lead a full and healthy life. And, because we live in Australia, this is what she does.
She was diagnosed when she was 10. This meant an initial hospitalisation and ongoing care through the diabetes centre at the Children’s Hospital at Westmead. We could not have asked for better care. She had access to experts: doctors, dietitians and the incredibly important, diabetes educators.
When she turned 18 her care was transferred to the adult centre, with access to the same support and still, most critically, the diabetes educators.
In between she needed to see the GP for referrals, scripts and of course have ongoing blood tests and pharmacy visits for her insulin and supplies.
Because of her access to all this care her condition has been stable and she has remained well.
Partly due to her chronic condition she wanted to have a baby early, while she was fit and young. Pregnancy can be a risky business for type 1 diabetics, but my daughter had access to all the expert care she needed: specialists, doctors, diabetes educators and the truly magnificent midwives.
The birth was tough, she needed expert help and the little fella needed some prompting to get going in this big world – but when needed the care was extraordinary and seamless.
Through all of this we have never been asked do you have insurance? Or how much money do you have? Not once.
We have only ever been asked – what’s wrong? What’s your condition? What care do you need?
We have only ever used Medicare.
And it’s only now that I really understand what this means and how much I have to thank simply for being Australian.
This care would not have been available to us in a private health system, the sort of system that most Americans have to deal with.
We simply could not have afforded the range of treatments needed for my daughter to stay healthy and to have a healthy baby. We could not have afforded the private health insurance that would have been needed.
Because they are profit driven, private health insurance companies are tempted to ‘cherry pick’ meaning people like my daughter, with a chronic condition, have to pay more or have their treatment options restricted because their condition can make them more costly to insure.
This is why the issue of a GP co-payment is so very important. It’s not about the amount: it’s because it will be mandatory and because private health insurance companies will be allowed to offer coverage for services they have not been allowed to cover before.
They will be able to control who gets care and who doesn’t, just as happens in America, not based on what care you need but what care you can afford.
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