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Here’s to your health, if you can afford it, that is

1 I listened with much interest to a speech by the National President of the Australian Medical Association Dr. Tony Bartone at the National Press Club last Wednesday.

He raised many issues of importance to all who use the medical system; however, the general thrust of his address was the need to overhaul the system.

One would think that an area as complex as health with all its future requirements would almost necessitate a permanent board of review given the good doctor described the system as being on the “precipice of possible demise.”

Or is that the job of the Minister?

It seems to me that we take rather a flippant view of our health care system just waiting for something to go wrong, or on the cusp of it, and then react with extra funds to fix the problems.

Like many things that are the preserve of this government, reaction is the go-to fix-it method; whereas what is needed is a pro-active approach.

Greg Hunt outside of mental health and occasionally announcing new drugs to be added to the pharmaceutical scheme appears to have little interest in the future of his portfolio. His attitude hasn’t differed from when he was Environment Minister and his lying knew no bounds.

In his speech, Dr Bartone said that the government should put an end to the endless reviews and ‘talk-fests’ that had taken place in recent years and take action on the known issues that were substantive.

There are so many things that need doing but cannot be done because of an imbalance between what we spend on vital needs such as health care and what we give away to the rich and privileged.

It sometimes feels like the conservatives are in a race to prove that drip down economics actually works. Labor’s plan that they took to the election required the rich to pay a bit extra in tax so that our national health care scheme can function without all the periodic reviews and ad hoc solutions. It also included for the first time that our teeth would become part of our health and that the growing problems of mental health be properly addressed.

The toward zero goal for suicide is an admirable one but words without action are just that, words.

Back to Dr Bartone, he said that:

“… the combined effect of increasing private health insurance premiums and the long-standing freeze on Medicare payments to general practitioners was seeing young and older Australians avoiding getting health treatment for conditions they should be.”

The budget has 1001 things pulling at the common good strings of the community, but none is more deserving than the health of the community.

With conservatives, however, the overriding need that must always be served first is looking after the wealth of the rich and privileged. Tax cuts together with a budget surplus that proves, in their minds at least, that they are the better money managers are far more important than the health needs of the community or a rapidly aging population for example.

Dr Bartone encouraged a broad-brush approach to fixing the problems. He also added that:

“… the increasing premiums was affecting the health insurance industry causing people to forego surgeries because of the cost.

The head of the association also hit out at the government for inaction on mental health, indigenous health and the freeze on Medicare rebates, saying there had been enough reviews into these issues, the government knew what to do and needed to get on with it.”

Further evidence of the disdain in which they hold the portfolio is the rather high ratio of ministers. Greg Hunt has an amazing capacity to appear to be doing something whilst doing nothing. Just as he did in the environment portfolio.

“To look at only parts of the system is not working, we need to look across the entire medical system and take action on what we already know needs to be done,said Dr Bartone.

To understand the conservatives dislike of public services like our health system one firstly needs to look at their ideology, which believes in the individual’s capacity to pay. The wealthier and more successful you become then the higher you go up the list.

History shows Conservatives would, if they could, privatise many government functions in the belief that the work is done better by private enterprise.

From Wikipedia

The Coalition Howard Government had announced that Medibank would be sold in a public float if it won the 2007 election, however they were defeated by the Australian Labor Party under Kevin Rudd which had already pledged that it would remain in government ownership.

The Coalition under Tony Abbott made the same pledge to privatize Medibank if it won the 2010 election but was again defeated by Labor. Privatisation was again a Coalition policy for the 2013 election, which the Coalition won.

However, the public perception that privatization would lead to reduced services and increased costs makes privatizing Medibank a “political hard sell.”

It is this same perception that safeguards the future of the NDIS and public education. Some things are indeed sacrosanct to the Australian people. It is only socially progressive governments that would dare introduce such measures.

2 The Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton now has more powers over the citizens of this country than anyone before him. Why is it necessary? The only thing I can think of is that they are devoid of common good ideas that might make things better for the people.

3 Now let’s get this right. Take the jobs market for example. The government promises thousands of jobs in the period before the next election although they are, other than the public service, not responsible for employing anyone.

The numbers of jobs created barely keeps up with the immigration numbers meaning we have a permanent pool of unemployment.

4 The Drum is fast becoming the ABC’s flagship political program. It uses a number of presenters who all know their stuff. At first, I didn’t think I would like the format but on reflection, I have become a fan.

Each day at 6pm they cover a broad range of subjects by guests from both sides of the political divide with women taking a major portion of the guest spots.

Tempers often flair but respect for the presenter is such that it never seems to cross the line. The ABC can beat many drums with this one.

5 “Whatever else you do, Renewable Energy Target, or anything else, they can be no cheaper than putting an explicit price on carbon,” Martin Parkinson, the outgoing head of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet told ABC’s 7.30 on Thursday night.

Add that to the evidence of Tony Abbott’s former Chief of Staff Peta Credlin that they only ever treated climate change as a political plaything what do you have.

Yet more proof from the core of the right that they are nothing more than political gutter dwellers.

My thought for the day

We can sometimes become so engrossed in our own problems that we can easily overlook the enormity of the suffering of others.


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  1. RomeoCharlie29

    I agree with you about TheDrum. A recent accident has resulted in restricted mobility (temporary fortunately, and a big shout out to our health system for that) so I have become a regular viewer. Most of the guests bring expertise which I appreciate though I would prefer to see less of Kate Cornell and Amanda Vanstone who are unable to get beyond their political biases. All three women presenters/ moderators do an excellent job but I find Stan Grant, much as I like him, too verbose. Incidentally I watch Insiders on iView and wonder why the interviews are cut out.

  2. Terence Mills

    Ellen fanning and Julia Baird are excellent on the DRUM, particularly Ellen who probes and prods the panel with humour and intelligence.

    I have recently had relatively minor surgery and as I live in a regional/rural area we don’t have private hospitals here but we do have two excellent public hospitals within a forty minute drive (North & South) : typically they are underfunded and stretched for resources and they could really benefit from some of that $6 billion that we gift to private health insurers each year.

    The mere fact that this amount of public money goes to private health insurers from public funds is a form of blatant discrimination against regional communities who will never have access to private hospitals (and shouldn’t need to).

  3. wam

    Medicare, any problems would be solved by making the levy on gross income (before deductions) with exceptions. The superannuants, frankers, sports, welfare the lot.of us.

    In the past it was hard to attack the insurance companies because of the huge employment but that is less of a concern now as they have sacked most in order to improve profits. Is it ethical to allow insurance companies to garner huge profits by government decree?
    loved the analysis of micallef: if unemployment stays the same and 20000 jobs are created then presumably 20000 jobs must have disappeared.

    What about the headline that filming Thor in nsw will create 2500 jobs. Wow imagine that and the new builder for the stadium will bring jobs isn’t our glad doing well??
    Take a two day job as an extra and get welfare back after 6 months or guess how much you will earn and make an error and have AI chase you for debt.
    I tried a couple of times but it was too soppy,. But I shall take your advice and watch the drum.
    Did you read the confirmation that man has contributed to the pace of global warming, lord??
    Note not ‘climate change’, a naturally occurring phenomena over millions of years. Where are the loonies who laughed at the suggestion melting glaciers could be used to challenge the deniers??

  4. wam

    oops with no exceptions 1% or 2% of everybody’s total yearly income.

  5. Matters Not

    The Drum is at its best when it sticks to the politics of the day. Yes Fanning and Baird are top rated professionals. Grant tries too hard – almost like he has an inferiority complex and is constantly trying to prove he’s up to the task. On LNL, when he’s a guest, he’s much better – because Adams ‘pulls him into gear’.

    Re the ‘health debate’. Decades ago, Trudeau the Elder, (tired of pumping money into the system only to see specialists drain it away) read the riot act. Specialists would be free to charge as much as they wanted BUT only if they elected to be outside the system. Those specialists who wanted to access public funds (from any source) had to agree to charge at or below a predetermined fee. Needless to say, specialists protested long and loud. Trudeau held firm. Guess what, specialists capitulated. They all agreed to a cap on their fees.

    In the lead up to the last election Labor promised X number of free cancer treatments. They didn’t go far enough and they squibbed tackling the root cause. Specialists now charge extremely vulnerable people what they like. It’s a type of extortion. While I have the very top of the range private health insurance, I was out of pocket upwards of $8 000 for one procedure, while a heart attack followed by very expensive intensive care in a public hospital; then the insertion of a pace-maker, followed by a triple bypass three months later cost me nothing (except of car parking fees which is another rort). If you get really ill, the very best treatment is available at public hospitals. But not all needless to say.

    Yes we need a serious debate on health funding but there’s now so many vested interests involved it will be a very high mountain to climb. Otherwise we continues down the US track.

  6. Andrew Smith

    The Lib’s who hold -ve policy views on Medicare and the public health system are copying the US GOP RWNJs’ strategy or actions, described as the ‘wrecking crew’ by Thomas Frank (while apparently the UK’s NHS is being eyed up by the US in any new trade agreement). This includes strangling income streams, placing incompetent people in charge and cutting services opening the door for private insurance and services.

    The fact is Australia has a mixed system where both public and private complement and/or supplement each other and not a high cost for Australians, even if on private insurance. Issues occur with out of pocket expenses, access, serious long term illness and future funding with an ageing population.

    One would suggest most Australians would be happy to pay a higher Medicare levy to support the system when e.g. Europeans on the whole pay far higher health (insurance) levies, without complaint?

    Australians are being constantly conditioned to focus upon costs or taxes as bad, while being confused by dog whistling and negative PR; all fits the current US radical right libertarianism that hides behind many mooted policy issues or changes that would negatively impact people’s quality of life (but could well vote to support the same….).

  7. Keitha Granville

    I still find it astounding, gobsmacking, that people voted in the LNP when Labor were promising that cancer treatment would be free, and dental care would be included in Medicare. It is galling that so many people in good health care little or nothing for those who aren’t. Yet we are all captive to the health system throughout our lives and it is confounding to think that any government won’t put good policy at the forefront of its platform.

    Yes, I know I am a socialist, but not everyone is wealthy and able to afford the best medicine when required – why can’t they see that ??

    Public utilities, telecommunication, health and emergency services – none of these should ever have been privatised.

  8. totaram

    Keitha: You don’t seem to get it. People did not know about Labor’s wonderful proposals. What they were told, in no uncertain terms was: Death tax, super tax, car tax, retirees tax, and 1 trillion dollars in tax. They didn’t want that, certainly in Queensland it seems, and voted against it.

    So no, you don’t need to be gobsmacked.

  9. David Stakes

    Time to get on board with the Facebook Banter on the Drum John, We shoot the trolls and have discussions among ourselves when we can. Sometimes it can move very fast.

  10. Florence Howarth

    One only needs to keep in mind a comment made by Dutton when he was trying to push his gap payment. He said Medicare was only ever meant to be a safety net underpinning private health insurance. I have never forgotten his words or the fact I can’t recall him ever being challenged. I suspect he also doesn’t know how the system works. Most already pay a gap payment much bigger than that suggested by Dutton for a great number of services. I see where public hospitals are saving patients much pay for medical imaging of joint before they accept the referral.

    The word gutting is more appropriate than privatization. Gutting to the point where it is no longer a universal scheme. Also in their sights is the Family Law Court. Another Whitlam success.

  11. Phil

    I don’t think the AMA will endorse the dismantling of Medicare, to many of their members buy their beach houses and yachts with it.

    I remember when Gough first brought it in, the AMA went apoplectic over it ‘ Socialized Medicine ‘ it was the end of civilization.

    About sixty Doctors were prosecuted the first few months of its inception rorting it.

    They are still rorting it.

  12. terence mills


    The yachts and beach houses are not funded from Medicare but from the $6 billion a year that we gift to private health providers by way of the private health insurance subsidy.

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