Australian government sets out to continue undermining Medicare rights

Contributed by Jim Hayes

Even under the Covid-19 pandemic conditions, the Medicare rebate was reduced on 1 July. This means that the gap between the rebate and doctors’ fees was increased. This left the public health system having to choose to whether charge patients the extra or absorb the cost, at a time when the health system is already pressed.

This is part of the recommendations put forward by the MBS Review Taskforce.

A long list of medicines has been reduced or removed altogether from the Medicare benefits schedule (PBS). Approval was rushed through the parliament on 1 October. Orthopaedic, general and vascular surgeries, and screening tests such as MRIs are among the services affected. The government’s public created a false impression by channelling its relations on the few to be newly included. Many more are to be excluded.

Some of the Taskforce recommendations, lead to pushing people to pay for costly private health insurance. With this, the government is providing a helping hand to an industry that is failing. And so it should. It provides little for the high premiums it charges.

The Medicare system has covered most needs without the making it necessary to take out private insurance. The changes are designed to both force people to turn to the private insurance companies, and through this, to transfer health resources to the private hospitals and clinics.

Australia is saddled with a government obsessed with market solutions for everything, including the health system. The transformation is creating a class based health system, where superior service is channelled to those with a higher income, at the expense of those with a lower one.

Increasing the gap and downgrading the PBS have been the targets for a long time. Both have been held back by the strength of the active opposition coming from the broad community. But the pandemic, when attention is on other pressing matters, is providing a back door opportunity to the government to sneak in its intentions, and there is good chance, pressure on the health system will be used as a cover.

The existing health system was brought in by the Whitlam government in the early 1970’s. This was called Medibank. In its original form, it gave all Australians free access to medical services. From day one, those who saw this as an affront to the market sought to get rid of it. Over the years it has been whittled down.

In the 1980’s, Medibank was split into Medicare providing partially free access, and the term Medibank was transferred to a new government run private insurance scheme. This was part of the path towards the deliberate Americanisation of the Australian health system. Medicare is the name used for the health care system in the United States, which is almost completely market driven. The separation was a major step towards privatisation.

Although only a shadow of what it once was, the Medicare system is still of remains of vital importance to Australians.

Its enemies are bent on continuing its destruction through a thousand cuts.

Defending the right to have access to healthcare, without this right being measured by the size of one’s income, is important. Its absence is a major contributor to inequality and a denial of the right to good health. This is the first step in the bigger battle to return our health system to where it was when it first came into existence.

Access to health should never be turned into a commodity for sale.

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