Feb 152012

Private Health Insurance. Necessary, or an indulgence?images

I used to ‘indulge’, not so many years ago, in fact, my working class parents instilled in me a belief that having private health insurance cover was one of life’s necessities. If you had to go to hospital, well, at least you received the best of the best treatment available. At least that was the thought process. However, I recall as a dependent 13 year old having my appendix removed in an emergency procedure at Brisbane’s Princess Alexandra Hospital in 1970. PA was then, and remains today, a publically funded hospital. I’ve asked before today why I went public at that time, when Mum & Dad had private cover, and was told that in that particular emergency, the public system was the only spot with a vacancy. How strange.

I’ve not had to avail of private health cover too many times in my 54 years, perhaps once in Toowoomba for elective surgery, and once in Mackay with a viral infection of some sort, as I recall. My children were born in Mackay’s Mater Misericordia Private Hospital in 1986 & 88, because that’s where the gyno wanted to see my then wife. She incurred septicaemia in late pregnancy, and with twins one doesn’t want to muck around. Suffice to say, Mackay’s base hospital is just as well equipped as any private hospital. Of course, having private health cover doesn’t mean you ride for free either. There’s always the ‘gap’ payment, which these days you need to ante up at admission, or be held within the bounds of the ward until you’ve paid before being released. Shades of Monty Python – “ So…..can we ‘ave your liver then?”

The children grew up, I left home, started a new life by shacking up with a fantastic root who became a wife…and things went downhill from there. We too had private health cover for a considerable period, until she suffered her mental crack up, refused to work with her fellow human beings any longer & became a lady of leisure. Now comes the crunch. Try coping with full private health cover, plus extras (eyes & teeth) on half the income you used to enjoy. Can’t be done. Things like the mortgage tend to take precedence. I’m not about to disclose my income, but I can assure you, dear reader, north of $80,000 per annum it ain’t. Apart from the fact that so-called ‘benefits’ of having private health cover became suddenly much more of a consideration. Automatically assuming that ‘benefits’ of going to the dentist annually, having a new set of specs annually, and knowing for a 50% loss up front, I could save myself $2,500 on a $5,000 hospital bill quickly went out the window when one compares what these things cost annually, compared to what private health cover costs for the privilege of perhaps saving half the cost.

My visits to the dentist tend to range around the 5 to 7 year mark. In other words, when absolutely necessary. Ditto with a new set of specs. My eyes don’t change anywhere near as much as they used to, so my new specs seem to range around 18 months to 2 years. The last set was three years & I only went along to the optometrist because I was seeing more scratches than pretty ladies when I looked through them. I wear these costs on the basis that if a new set of titanium frames, best poly-carbonate lenses with PhotograyTM, anti-glare, anti-scratch coatings cost me $1,000 (which the current set did), and basic hospital cover with basic extras costs me $1,500 a year, then I’m way in front. As for hospital, I have no deliberate intention in going. I don’t sky-dive, ride a motorcycle or wrestle crocodiles, so the odds of needing to go to hospital are extremely low. And if something does come along, the public system, a shared ward, is just fine by me. Medical care is medical care. Doctors & nurses all take the same oath & retain the same ethics.

So, no….for me, private health cover is no longer a consideration, if indeed, it ever really was. More of a parentally instilled habit. I’m of the opinion that because I’m ‘obliged’ through the taxation system to support Medicare to the tune of 1.5% of my taxable income, the state is equally obliged to afford me at least 1.5% annually accrued support. We all know the history of Medicare, as the phoenix born of the fire of November 11, 1975, and we all know how conservatism has twice tried to dismantle it’s universality and at least once, partially succeeded. Mungo MacCallum wrote an excellent piece on the impending demise of the private health rebate, and summarises the downgrading of universality under Howard quite well. Due to the failure of Labor to show its gonads by restoring universality, and conservatism’s dogmatic determination to abolish it forever, we’ll never see what Gough Whitlam created again. We can at least hope that some level of fairness is restored by the dismantling of Howard’s tax system rort. Low paid and middle-working class Joes and Josephines should not be funding the private health cover of the highly paid executives, mining magnates and media barons.

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