by Bob Briton "Whatever the Government says, full insurance will be means tested from now on and there will be GP co-payments for most people. These would be uncapped and unpredictable, and only a fool would believe that they will not rise or eventually extend to other services." These are the words of John Deeble, Adjunct Professor of Economics at the Australian National University and a chief architect of the original Medicare scheme. They contain a clear warning that the Federal Government's proposed changes to Medicare will destroy universal free health care in Australia by attacking one of its cornerstones: bulk-billing. Already active organisations have sprung up across the country in defence of Medicare and against the further encroachment of corporate interests into the national health system. People are angry enough that private health insurers are favoured with a gift of a whopping $3.6 billion a year via the Private Health Insurance Rebate and other devices. And, they will be even angrier if these insurance companies are given the extra opportunity of insuring those who fail the means test for the new "gap" — i.e. the difference between the Medicare rebate paid to GPs and the amount they may choose to charge over and above that amount (the co- payment). The Guardian reported last week that a rally in Sydney attracted a wide range of community organisations and at least 700 participants. Other major events, like the National Health Care Summit to be held in the Old Parliament House in Canberra from August 17-19 will help to maintain the momentum of this emerging people's movement. However, the importance of what is at stake dictates that this movement must quickly expand to exert the necessary political influence to save Medicare. Data from the OECD and distributed recently by the ACTU makes the alternatives clear. Figures compare the United States — with its mostly private, managed health system that Howard is pursuing — and Australia and a number of other OECD countries with largely publicly funded systems. Infant mortality in Australia stood at 5.7 per 1000 live births in 2002. In the USA the figure was 7.1. Life expectancy in Australia is 79 years on average compared to 76.5 years in the US. There are 3.8 hospital beds per 1000 Australians but only three in the United States. Examination of the figures for the UK, Germany France and Canada show an unmistakable relationship between health outcomes and the level of public funding. Perhaps most instructive is the fact that the US spends a higher proportion of its GDP (national income) to maintain its health system (13 per cent) than does Australia (8.3 percent). Health spending per person in the US is US$4361 per annum compared to just US$2211 in Australia. Even with all this spending, millions of Americans go without health cover or insurance companies deny them the medications and treatment they need when they are insured. Finance capital and other corporate interests clean up every which way in the unfettered private enterprise US system. No wonder that the Federal Government and its corporate backers are keen to go down the American path! Cuba a shining example The example of Cuba is also an important one to demonstrate the benefits of a free universal health care system. Of course Cubans have the additional advantage of real public control over health service delivery thanks to their socialist revolution. On the other hand, the Cuban people also suffer major handicaps in the form of scant natural resources, a criminal economic blockade led by the US and the collapse of the country's major trading partners in the early 1990s. Cuba's infant mortality rate is seven per 1000 live births — a figure at the better end of the scale for developed countries and light years away from the situation in nearby El Salvador where 29 die or Haiti where the figure is 91. The figure in Cuba was 60 before the revolution! Cubans can now expect to live to age 78 while their counterparts in El Salvador live to be just 70 years old and only 49 in Haiti. Cuba is today the country with the highest number of doctors per capita in the world, with almost twice as many as those that follow closest. The country's scientific centres are working relentlessly to find preventive or therapeutic solutions for the most serious diseases. Infectious and contagious diseases like polio, malaria, neonatal tetanus, diphtheria, measles, rubella, mumps, whooping cough and dengue have been eradicated; tetanus, meningococcal meningitis, hepatitis B, leprosy, haemophilus meningitis and tuberculosis are fully controlled. Given Cuba's health record under socialism, Australia's progress under that social system would be spectacular, indeed. However, the reality is that our immediate task is the building of an alliance to stop the Federal Government stripping the good features from Medicare. The future of these crucial services depends on the success of this movement. Join the campaign The Communist Party of Australia is putting all of its energy into building the movement to Save Medicare. Along with health workers and trade unions, pensioner, community and other organisations and individuals, CPA members are involved in the struggle for universal health care based on need, not wealth and privilege. Visit the CPA's website at http://www.cpa.org.au to obtain a petition, a leaflet and a poster as well as a copy of Dr Con Costa's article Destroying Medicare and Feeding Insurance Companies. The petition is directed to the Senate which could block the changes being introduced by the Howard Government. It calls on the Senate "to retain and extend the universal public health insurance system Medicare by: * restoring bulk billing for all; * increasing financial support to the public health system; * switching to the public Medicare system the $3.6 billion currently used to prop up the private health insurance industry. It calls on the Senate to oppose the "introduction of cuts to Medicare services, limitations on its coverage and the introduction of up-front fees for GP visits". Print out a copy of the petition and start collecting signatures. When you have filled a sheet, please mail to CPA 65 Campbell Street, Surry Hills. 2010 Join the campaign!
* * *Note: If you do not have access to the Internet, copies of Dr Costa's article in booklet form, leaflets, a petition and a poster are available from the CPA 65 Campbell Street, Surry Hills. NSW. 2010. The booklet is $1 (plus 50 cents p&p) and donations towards the cost of the campaign are always appreciated.