The $6 Co-Payment - Why The Liberals Just Don't Get It

30 December 2013
There's no denying health care costs in Australia are very high - and will continue to increase as the baby boomers enter retirement age - but the government has flagged a terrible (and hitherto unannounced) solution: charging a $5 copayment for people to visit the GP. After warnings that people will instead go to hospital emergency departments, a charge to attend there has been suggested as well. Whilst some are disavowing the idea, many Liberals are digging their heels in. $5 isn't that much after all, and poor people shouldn't expect everything for free.

Now, it may be hard for someone on a skiing holiday in France to understand just how much difference $5 can make to someone who's barely getting by. (The adviser who recommended the charge condescendingly, and inaccurately, compared it to "the cost of a burger and fries" - because that's what they imagine poor people eat). The dole, for instance, is $35 a day to live on - that has to cover everything; food, rent, transport, medical care. A politician or government adviser would have absolutely no comprehension what that's like (are there any members of federal parliament who have been unemployed, or on a pension?). Our Prime Minister is approaching his 20th year in parliament, most of it on ministerial pay; you cannot tell me he can possibly have any idea what it's like to keep a family of four on $42,000 a year. Or less. No wonder $5 seems like nothing to them.

Another factor raised is that this measure will cut down on "unnecessary" visits to the doctor. Is there any evidence that all these unnecessary visits are taking place? Part of the problem is that many employers require a doctor's certificate for even a day's absence (I had an employer who said I'd need to get a doctor's certificate to leave work at 2pm with severe pregnancy nausea - meaning I had to go to the doctor instead of going home and passing out on the bathroom floor, which was all I wanted). With the increasing casualisation of the workforce, many employees are already losing a day's pay if they're sick. It seems a bit bloody much to slug them with a charge to get a doctor's certificate as well.

But the Liberals really, really hate the idea of their money being used on services for the less fortunate. Conservatives treat their money like a toddler treats their toys; you can explain the concept of sharing, that they've got more than they need and the little boy over there has none and it wouldn't hurt to give him some, but they will still scream "NO! MINE". They love to pontificate about how hard they work, as if they really work harder than the single mother of three who works 30 hours a week at Woolworths and can barely afford the petrol to get to work, and then what happens if her kids get multiple bouts of gastro and bronchitis over a winter? Oh but they'll say, people shouldn't have kids if they can't afford it...but abortion is wrong, the easy convenient way out. The cycle of hatred is endless. Most of the well off can't admit, even to themselves, that through health and education and relationships, they're the winners of a lottery that too many other people are losing; then, through cuts to education and health care, they further hamper the chances of those who've already started the race behind; that through economic rationalism, they've destroyed the social contract that says if you work hard and are a good person you will get ahead - and then they claim their success was due to hard work and if only poor people tried harder, they could be successful too.

If the health care system is struggling financially, increase the Medicare levy on high income earners. And when I get back on my feet financially I'll happily pay it. I can't say I'll have much time for the class warfare whining of the wealthy, who apparently look at the social problems caused by the U.S. user pays system and say "ooh, yes please". In health, as in education, we're sliding further down the path of a two-tier system and it needs to stop, now.


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