“He piled upon the whale’s white hump the sum of all the general rage and hate felt by his whole race from Adam down; and then, as if his chest had been a mortar, he burst his hot heart’s shell upon it.“
And so it is with the far right conservative element of Australian politics. Medicare is their Moby Dick and has been ever since Whitlam instigated the original Medibank in 1975. The history of Medicare from the Department of Human Services website makes interesting reading.
The Medibank program had only a few months of operation before the dismissal of the Whitlam Government on 11 November 1975, and the subsequent election of the Liberal-National Coalition under Fraser in December 1975. Following the election, a Medibank Review Committee was established in January 1976. The Committee’s findings were not made public but the new program was announced in a Ministerial Statement to Parliament on 20 May 1976. ‘Medibank Mark II’ was launched on 1 October 1976 and included a 2.5 per cent levy on income, with the option of taking out private health insurance instead of paying the levy.
The similarities abound even today. Peter Dutton claims he wants to “start a national conversation about modernising and strengthening Medicare” while at the same time he claims the government wants to “grow the opportunity for those Australians who can afford to do so to contribute to their own healthcare costs”. In other words, they want to destroy what little universality still remains from the original ideal, just as Fraser and Howard did before them. Fraser dismantled universality, Howard went further by withdrawing provider numbers through which health care practitioners could access the system for payment. Howard then further restricted incentives for GP’s to bulk bill forcing many in private practise to increase their basic charge. Meanwhile, the 30% private health insurance rebate became fixture in the health care regulatory marketplace, ensuring that those who could afford private health care, received maximum bang for their buck, the private insurers became even fatter on the government purse, and those who couldn’t afford, were relegated to lessening standards for publically funded health care via a now nobbled Medicare. What we see today is NOT the utilitarian ideal of Edward Gough Whitlam, but the remnants of former universality kept on life support for the benefit of private insurers, the aged and the poor. One might say, a classic example of the class system in operation.
It is common knowledge that a co-payment system of paying for a doctor’s visit already exists. My last GP’s visit about a month ago billed at $70.00 for a 10 minute consultation. All I needed was prescription renewal. At that rate, my GP is making $420/hour for his services, and knowing how hard he works & the hours he keeps, I don’t begrudge one rarzoo. However, I am currently unemployed, subsisting on my superannuation and Newstart approximately 50/50. As such, I am entitled to a Health Care Card. A good thing too because my medications are expensive, yet my medications cost only half of the actual GP visit. According to page 115 of the March 2014 Medical Benefits Schedule, the Schedule Fee for a LEVEL B Professional attendance by a general practitioner lasting less than 20 minutes at said practitioner’s consulting rooms is $36.30 of which 100% is covered by Medicare. Anything over and above the Schedule Fee I already pay for. $33.70 at last count. My medications even without the health care card support amount to just over $40. So, effectively, I’m currently paying my way quite admirably in my view. I’m entitled to the tax-payer funded system support both via the years of income tax I have contributed to society, and currently because I currently can not afford to pay full cop anyway. This is precisely why the system exists, albeit in a much lesser form than originally envisaged.
It’s all very well for Dutton to claim the health care system is riddled with inefficiency and waste. One need only try wading through the March 2014 Medical Benefits Schedule to understand the real meaning of that statement. The bureaucratic overload is enormous and I dare say I’ve only touched on one small part. Cut the bureaucracy and the regulation and I’d warrant the inefficiency and waste will vanish overnight. Yes, Australia is an aging population, which the original designers of Medibank took into account at the time. This call by conservatives for “cutting of costs”, “reduction of waste” and “greater involvement of the private sector” are simply ideological hobby horses which are mounted and ridden everytime these people gain power through the ballot box. They disdain the need for society to look after it’s own, preferring to outsource to the corporate world, thereby absolving government – themselves – of any responsibility in provision of that care. There is no need for an additional co-payment arrangement, we’re already paying almost 50% of our individual health costs anyway. If the health care system requires more money, then raise the medicare levy. You will find that a great majority of ordinary working class Australians will gladly pay the few more basis points in the knowledge that they are sustaining a system which will sustain them during their non-working, non-income earning years. THAT is why medicare exists. Not as a vehicle for the benefit of private enterprise profit, but as a service to the society that feeds it.
This drive by conservatives, and especially this current mob of ne’er-do-well Howardian-era left-over miscreants, for saving of the public purse, promotion of the so-called free market, private enterprise and touting of budgetary fiscal surpluses through public asset sales, is pure ideology writ large. We, who pay our taxes all of our working lives, are entitled to the benefits of that payment. Governments exist to provide for the societies they serve, not for the production of pseudo-profit through liquidation of that they are charged with safe-guarding. Those who can pay, should pay. Those who cannot must be supported, for the good of the society as a whole. Not for the benefit of the well-to-do few. If we allow this, or indeed ANY government, to dismantle support systems which exist purely to service the public good, then we surrender our rights to determine how our taxation is utilised. Taxation is the ticket to ride on a comfortable societal bus. We, the passengers, determine whether the driver is going where we want to go, not where the driver decides to take us.
To further quote Melville, from Chapter 117:
“Take another pledge, old man,” said the Parsee, as his eyes lighted up like fire-flies in the gloom—“Hemp only can kill thee.”
“The gallows, ye mean.—I am immortal then, on land and on sea,” cried Ahab, with a laugh of derision;—“Immortal on land and on sea!”
Which of us, I wonder, is Ahab and which is the Zoroastrian Seer? I prefer to believe that those who chase the whale, will die by the whale. The message Ahab failed to comprehend when Fedallah spoke of Hemp. If the conservatives continue to tamper with the mechanisms of the public good, they will be the harbingers of their own defeat.