Hands off Medicare

ObamacareProtestThe Abbott government haven’t used the holiday season merely to dump unpopular policies on out-of-office media teams and too-relaxed-to-take-much-notice Australian voters. They’ve also leaked/floated a few ideas that they plan to miraculously endorse after the release of the Commission of Audit, except that they’ve clearly thought the ideas up already. Go figure. One of these ideas which hasn’t received much media coverage is the plan to remove the small business instant asset-write-off tax deduction, which also didn’t receive much media coverage before the election when Abbott announced it as policy. I guess Abbott’s cheer leaders in the mainstream media don’t want to make themselves look like idiots by admitting that policies like this are completely contradictory to the ‘open for business’ narrative which they have accepted without question and without scrutiny. Not wanting to look like idiots is a noble motivation, and explains why the right wing commentators are now going after the ABC (how dare they report the failings of the Abbott government) and Peppa Pig (look over there – a pig with a handbag!). But another of the ideas floated over the Christmas break which definitely was not mentioned by Abbott before the election is the suggestion that visits to your local GP, and possibly emergency rooms, will be charged $5 or $6. Quite fairly, Labor has already begun to refer to this fee as a GREAT BIG TAX. (You have to say it slowly like you’re struggling to remember the next word, to really get the tone as Abbott-like as possible). Apart from the obviously hypocritical stance of a man who did nothing else as Opposition Leader except tour businesses across the country, campaigning against the Carbon Price, because it was going to increase people’s ‘cost of living’ through a small increase in their electricity bills, the policy is a ridiculously stupid idea for other reasons. Firstly, the administrative cost to raise such a small amount ($750 million over four years) doesn’t seem to make the political cost of this policy worth it. There are many other ways to save this sort of money. For example, Abbott could reduce the fuel-tax-credits rate for mining companies. But of course, Abbott wouldn’t dream of upsetting his friends/donors in the mining industry. That really would be political suicide. On top of this, Medicare is a Labor policy which the community is very fond of. As soon as a Liberal government targets free universal healthcare, we are reminded that it was Liberal opposition to Medicare which made it such a huge battle for Labor to deliver the policy in the first place. Liberal and National ideologues have always been against Medicare, and Abbott has wasted no time in reminding us that he is one of these ideologues. He is reminding us that he would be on the Tea Party’s side in the US, calling ObamaCare communism, and getting hysterical about repealing it. He is reminding us that the $5 or $6 fee for visiting a doctor is ultimately a ‘user-pays’ system. What’s next – no more free education? No more social security? This is one very slippery slope which Abbott seems tempted to slide down very early in his first term. Abbott really should read up on his political history if he wants a preview of how the electorate will respond to his GP tax. I hate to look like I’m giving Abbott advice, but since he doesn’t take advice anyway, I feel safe that I will be ignored. Over the last few days, I finally got around to reading George Megalogenis’s book – The Australian Moment. Within days of finding out about Abbott’s GREAT BIG TAX on sick children, I found myself reading Megalogenis’s retelling of the history of Labor’s budget in 1991, delivered by the then Treasurer John Kerin. Kerin was looking for cuts in the budget and suggested a plan to raise funds by charging $3.50 for GP appointments, which would save $1.65 billion over four years. There was a problem for Kerin, however. And that was the community’s reaction to this plan. As Megalogenis explains:

“But if it had a co-payment attached to it, Medicare lost its meaning as a universal health scheme funded directly out of the budget…. Medicare was one of the few things that Labor stood for that people held dear to them. To say the program was unaffordable was code for accusing Australians of being hypochondriacs”.

Labor eventually dropped this plan, and possibly Abbott will too. But I do hope that a brave journalist in the meantime does have a chance to ask Abbott a question about this idea, which would successfully reveal to the Australian public exactly who they elected to run the country. The question would ideally sound something like this: The Carbon Price was designed to send a price-signal to consumers to encourage them to cut down on their electricity usage, in order to reduce carbon emissions, and to reduce climate change. You campaigned against what you called a ‘Carbon Tax’. Can you please tell us, with your plan to send a price-signal to consumers of doctors’ services, which ailments should we stop seeing a doctor for? The lump on our arm which may be skin cancer, or our child’s temperature which may be meningitis?


  1. The thing that is particularly dumb about the idea of the Dr $5 fee is that nearly all GP practices already charge a gap to cover costs, and only bulk bill those with health care cards or in financial difficulty. So making those with health care cards and financial difficulty pay for their visits will do what, I wonder? Oh that’s right……not go to the dr!
    If you haven’t got $5 then too bad, wait for another day, don’t get treated.
    For Drs who do bulk bill, this will mean a pay cut, as no doubt they will follow their principles (long established all over Australia) and continue to bulk bill, but at the lower fee forced on them by Abbott and his cronies. Because we know the libs hate GPs. Not only is this idea about punishing all those people who are stupid enough to be poor, but to reduce the income of people stupid enough to work as drs for the community.
    I can only hope that enough discussion and opposition is mounted so that this stupid idea in a long list of Abbott stupid ideas will be nipped in the bud. Thanks, Victoria, for bringing it out…the libs have been v sneaky and under the radar with this one…

  2. I know someone who works in a GP clinic, and there are a large number of people who shop around for the bulk billing GPs to try and supply their drug habits, or frankly because they are hypochondriacs.

    the most useful tool we have found is the 1800-health line run by the state government. they quickly run through a panel of questions and are able to give general advice, and also tell you if you need to see a doctor, the emergency room, or if you should wait and see if things change. the state govt probably find it helpful in terms of relieving pressure on emergency rooms, but they also would lessen the pressure on GPs.

    If it is reasonable for people to also pay for the medication they get from a doctors visit, why isn’t it reasonable to chip in for seeing a GP? Presently we attend a bulk billing clinic. It wasn’t chosen for that reason but was the only one in our area taking new patients when we moved into the area. $6/visit is a small price, and as we don’t have all the details there isn’t much point in getting worked up into a lather before we know how concessions will work for the lower paid people.

  3. The socioeconomic group I am thinking of, if made to pay $5 for the doctor would have no money left to pay for their prescription.
    Lovely catch-22 for those who are ill, have no drug habit (as mentioned in the post above) and cannot find work.

    • so without considering the exclusions and considerations that might be made for the poor, this idea should be binned, even if it makes medicare more sustainable?
      Let’s keep on borrowing from our grandkids. That’s got to be viable for at least another decade or so.

      • The issue here is trust.
        Something lacking in the current government and it’s intentions toward her people.
        This idea should be binned because it is the beginning of the dismantling of our public health system, given enough time, it’s what the Liberals do.
        Shift cash from the needy to the greedy.
        America almost failed using the type of system the Liberals and their ilk would kill to see here.
        Privatised everything, charities running all welfare, skeleton government.
        Look at Queensland.
        We are now (illegally) corporations instead of citizens thanks to circumventing the system and putting in place a dictator.

        What’s next? Selling mining exploration rights to our water catchment areas?
        Pssh done.

        We really need Liberal leadership to take from the poor and the old and the aboriginals to pay for their baby bribery bonus.

        Speaking of Medicare, how about that preventable disease problem.
        The one involving our Aboriginals who were fed sugar and booze to keep them happily enslaved and now suffer untold health problems because of our introduced diet.
        Will that be fixed, addressed or even looked at by a Liberal Government?
        Part of our protected rain forest was allowed to be used to farm indigenous foodstuffs…for Australian Aboriginals to improve their health, right?
        NO, for profit and stuff Australia’s first people.
        Yeah, keep defending the indefensible. Liberal is all about undoing any social safety nets when a private profit can be turned.
        What about the Liberal minister who opposes the NBN FO here but goes ahead and invests in FO in another country.
        It’s not about what is good for Australia or her people, it’s about what is good for them and their puppeteers pockets.

      • @Woohzal: Do you seriously think that hte liberals are so politically suicidal that they’d undertake anything like the dismantling of our health system? They got burned when they went too far in workplace relations, and are likely to be careful to ensure they don’t get tarred as the wreckers.

        How do you suggest we fund medicare if more money is needed in it? raise the medicare levy?

        What are you talking about regarding QLD and being corporations rather than citizens?

      • Bob just do some research on the Brigalow Corporation and our place as citizens in it, also where our homes and indeed ourselves form part of this corporations assets.

  4. […] public office and business lobbyists being handed the keys to the budget. We potentially will see a user-pays system replace universal healthcare. This is just a snapshot and shows just how much outrage does need to be assembled to fight this […]

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