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Issue #1805      November 29, 2017

Kentucky Fried health care

The crisis facing the public health system is not a crisis of the public nature of the system. It is the promotion of and diversion of public funds to the private, for-profit sector that has resulted in the present untenable situation. This process has been a conscious one on the part of successive governments, all intent on privatising health care.

In effect, Medicare with its payments of rebates, is being broken up and handed over to private health insurance funds to manage. Public hospitals will be funded by fees for services from the health insurance funds, not directly by government. They will be competing on a health market, with increased pressure to churn through patients as quickly and cheaply as possible, regardless of consequences to their care.

The private health funds will offer, as they do now, a range of plans for hospital cover in the private system. This cover will be extended to buy places in public hospitals and to medical services, an area that they have been lobbying to cover for years. Those who can afford it will be able to buy health and hospital plans that offer a more complete range of services, that cover the gap between the standard refund and what a private provider charges. There will be no lid on what private practitioners charge.

It will be business as usual, but possibly three instead of two tiers of health care – the safety net, those who can afford full cover and jump waiting lists and possibly a third group of people who fail to qualify for the safety net but do not have the means for extended private cover.

Welcome to the US-style managed health care system where health funds will be telling you what medical procedures you can have and in which hospital!

The differences between public and private hospitals disappear. The Commission raises the idea that state governments corporatise their public hospitals and even sell them!

The government is intent on introducing a voucher system in some form or other. Various aspects of the recommendations have already been trialled – changes in the way public hospitals are paid in Victoria, special packages for the chronically ill, public beds in private hospitals, private beds in public hospitals.

This Kentucky Fried system is to be called Medicare Select.

Thus the health care “debate” will become one about how to privatise the system, dressed up in terms of choice and competition, about who is bulk-billed, what additional services are provided and so on.

Under Medicare Select costs will rocket, the majority of people will be no better off while the transnational corporations taking over the health system will be rolling in profits.

The alternative is a fully funded public health system, with the government paying doctors, funding public hospitals and other health services which are provided free on a universal basis. Such a system, with the elimination of the profit motive and layers of administration, is the only one capable of delivering a quality health care to everyone and would cost less than is being spent now.

The focus needs to be put squarely on the key issue of public or private, for people or for profits.

Next article – CAALAS under threat as government cuts funding

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