The Liberals claim that healthcare costs are rising so fast that they will be “unsustainable” without cutbacks. But this is only because they want to reduce taxes on corporations and the rich. Australia’s tax take compared to our economy’s wealth is low by international standards—25.6 per cent compared to the average of 33.8 per cent in 2010 among the OECD rich club of nations.
The Liberals’ solution to funding healthcare is to force people to pay more through private providers. This ends up costing more overall and only serves to boost the profits of private health companies. The private health insurance rebate currently costs $5.5 billion a year. The Grattan Institute recently calculated that scrapping it and redirecting the money into the public health system would actually be $3 billion cheaper. And it would mean everyone could access healthcare, not just those who can afford it.
The $6 co-payment fee for GP visits is designed to entrench the principle that growth in healthcare costs should be met through a user-pays system. Once set in place this fee will only grow over time. A co-payment fee will hurt those who need free healthcare the most—the poor, the elderly and the chronically ill. Already 8 per cent of people say they have avoided or delayed a visit to the GP because of cost—since there are usually extra costs involved for prescriptions or further tests.
The plan may even end up costing the health system more overall, as Con Costa from the Doctors Reform Society explains, “People would stop seeing their GP, ending up sicker and going to hospital—which costs thousands of dollars a day versus the current $36 to see a GP bulk-billed.”
The Liberals have long opposed a universal, free healthcare system. Malcolm Fraser abolished the first version of Medicare introduced by Gough Whitlam. John Howard tried to undermine bulk-billing and forced more people to take up private health insurance.