Australian Health Fund Coalition Speaks out Against Medicare

In 1984, Australia saw the introduction of its federally funded health insurance system. Medicare was designed as a protective system for universal access to health care, irrespective of the beneficiaries’ income level, age, gender, or location. Nearly two decades later, however, it seems like the system has failed – or at least that’s what a recently formed alliance of private health funds seems to be saying. The representatives of the private system claim that Medicare is doing nothing to improve the conditions for access. What is more, they are actually claiming that the public system, as it stands today, is actually creating an ever deeper gap between Australia’s rich and its poor. The group of private health insurers is citing numerous issues with Medicare. Some of the most concerning involve universal accessibility, the increased costs that patients need to support out of their own pockets, as well as a general lack of access to resources, which public hospitals face. They are also bringing into the debate the often cited problem of endless waiting lists for access to health care in public facilities.

Medicare was launched with the declared mission to improve the standards of medical care in Australia. It aimed to provide higher quality services to one and all; to this end, the system takes care of all the costs that patients produce, when seeking medical care in public hospitals. Both general practitioners and specialized doctors receive subsidies through this system. However, according to the recently released report by the health fund group, the actual situation in the field couldn’t be further from those ideals: patients that are financially well-off receive far better medical care than those who can’t afford it. According to the same report, there is no stable picture of general practitioners bulk billing rate, as they differ widely from one area of the country to another. In some parts of Australia, 49 per cent of GPs bulk bill, while in others the ratio goes up to 96 per cent. To boot, gap fees are also on the up and up, having gone up by $16.5 from 2007 to 2012 (namely from $30 to $46.50).

The problem with waiting lists is also worth taking into consideration. Publicly insured patients in some areas of the country need to sit out long waiting times in order to gain access to elective surgery. Although it’s called ‘elective’, this class of interventions includes important operations, such as hip and knee replacements. The same survey cited above has found that in financially disadvantaged areas, the average waiting time is longer by 13 days than in more economically stable parts of Australia.

The report goes on to list an ample array of inequities. Some affect people that suffer from chronic illnesses, while others are clearly disadvantageous toward those living in remote, or rural areas. The report’s authors are asking leaders on both sides of the political echelon to reconsider their current stance on Medicare and to implement changes within the system. Funds are being wasted in some areas of the country, according to the report – while in others chronic sufferers are being deprived of access to appropriate care, because of a lack of sustainable funding. At the same time, the report addresses the reality of current costs incurred by the average Australian. The figure stands at $1,070 per capita, which translates into $4,000 per the average household. Private health insurance is also taken in tow: the average cost stands at $3,000 per premium per year for private family health insurance. The addition of major out of pocket costs makes health care far from affordable down under. And if the politicians fail to reform Medicare – the report argues – the population is only going to be faced with more inequality, as time progresses.

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