UNIVERSAL STEALTH CARE
by Ross Sharp
Once upon a time in a land, far, far away …
From The Whitlam Institute …
“The change the Whitlam Government enacted in the area of healthcare was transformative. The introduction of a universal healthcare system – Medibank was one of the reforms that defined the Whitlam Government and its underlying philosophy. The guiding mission was to provide adequate healthcare to all citizens regardless of their financial means. In his 1972 election campaign speech, Whitlam stated: ‘I personally find quite unacceptable a system whereby the man who drives my Commonwealth car in Sydney pays twice as much for the same family cover as I have, not despite the fact that my income is 4 or 5 times higher than his, but precisely because of my higher income’. The Whitlam Government sought to ensure that Australia’s social security system provided an adequate safety net for those in most need, and that the system took account of social reality. The Whitlam Government enacted changes to support the opportunities and security of women, in particular.
The primary achievement of the Whitlam Government in this area was the creation of Medibank, Australia’s national health insurance system. The system would provide free access to hospitals and a range of other medical services. The maximum gap between a doctor’s fee and the Medibank rebate was to be $5. Medibank was designed to provide health coverage for the 17% of Australians who did not have, or could not afford private health insurance.”
Former Labor Prime Minister Julia Gillard, 5 September, 2003…
“Medicare was born in 1984, a health system built by Labor and designed to give every Australian access to affordable health care. Throughout the 1980s, as Medicare gained strength and became the foundation for an equitable health system, John Howard was Medicare’s greatest enemy. Again and again, he declared his opposition to Medicare. When he was leader of the opposition in the 1980s, he said that Medicare was a “miserable, cruel fraud”, a “scandal”, a “total and complete failure”, a “quagmire”, a “total disaster”, a “financial monster” and a “human nightmare”.
He subsequently threatened to “pull Medicare right apart” and to “get rid of the bulk-billing system”. And he said bulk billing was an “absolute rort”. John Howard’s 1987 election commitment stated: “Bulk billing will not be permitted for anyone except the pensioners and the disadvantaged. Doctors will be free to charge whatever fees they choose.”
Liz Jackson‘s interview with John Howard, during the 1996 Election Campaign, for the Four Corners‘ program “An Average Australian Bloke”, first broadcast 19 February, 1996 …
Q. That will be big in this debate, Medicare being the first. When did you change your mind about Medicare?
A. What part of it?
Q. Well for instance, that it was a total disaster, when did you change your view that Medicare was a total disaster?
A. I have … I have accepted for some years now that the Australian people like Medicare and they want to keep it.
Q. When did you change your view that bulk billing was a rort?
A. Once again, the Australian people made a decision that they wanted to keep bulk billing and they therefore … in … on all of these sorts of issues, anybody who has the same view year in and year out, irrespective of the expression of public opinion, is…is stupid.
Q. So you changed your view on bulk billing and Medicare generally because of public opinion?
A. They… public opinion played a very major part on both of those issues, yes. Because… because in public life you have to take account of what the public thinks. You can’t totally ignore it.
Ross Gittins, The Age, May 2003 …
“Although Howard came to office with a promise to preserve Medicare, it’s now clear he has been working to restore a more individualist health care system. He began by seeking to revive private insurance (and, hence, private hospitals) with two sticks and one big carrot: the un-means-tested 30 per cent tax rebate.
In this budget we see him progressing to a plan that would eventually reduce bulk-billing to a safety net for pensioners and other card-holders, while allowing the private funds to insure people for the gap between their doctors’ bills and the Medicare rebate.”
Address by Julia Gillard, Sydney, 2006, NSW Fabian Society Forum John Howard: 10 Years On …
“We show our values in our actions. And the gap between Howard’s claimed values and his values in action is a chasm. The chasm shows in the Howard Government’s Medicare Safety net. The rhetoric was “Strengthening Medicare”, delivered through the highly stylised multi-million dollar campaign design to convince us that John Howard cared about a universal health system.
The policy was meant to help people struggling with their out of pocket health care costs, people who have high health care needs, people with a chronic illness who need to access care on an ongoing basis.
But the reality is a very stark contrast. The policy has fuelled heath inflation, particularly in the areas of obstetrics, which accounts for almost 40 per cent of the Medicare safety net expenditure.
So while the rhetoric was designed to placate the electorate’s concern about the erosion of Medicare, the reality is that the majority of safety net rebates are going to the worried well, the well paid one-off health consumer, not the middle or lower income chronic illness sufferer, trying to manage their diabetes, or asthma, or arthritis or depression. The values that support John Howard’s so-called safety net are values of unfairness, division and exclusion.”
Prime Minister Tony Abbott, February, 2014 …
“As a health minister in a former government, I used to say that government was the best friend Medicare has ever had,” he said.
“This leopard doesn’t change his spots and I want this government, likewise, to be the best friend Medicare has ever had.”
Federal Treasurer Joe Hockey, February 2014 …
“If our health and welfare and education systems stay exactly the same, Australia is going to run out of money to pay for them, and we’re either going to have a massive increase in taxes — and that means fewer jobs at the end of the day — or we’re going to have to look at ways we can restructure the system to make it sustainable.”
ABC News, February 2014 …
Dr Jim Gillespie, from the Menzies Centre for Health Policy, says it is unclear what the Coalition’s vision for modernising the Medicare system comprises.
“It’s a little hard to work out because they promised almost nothing in the election campaign,” he said.
“It was very hard to find out what they were planning and a lot of them merging by nudges and winks and little suggestions along the way, but a lot of it seems to be about a very old Liberal hostility towards the universal nature of Medicare.”
Kenneth Davison, The Age, April, 2003 …
Under the cover of the fog of war, the Howard Government is trying to drive the final nail into Medicare as a universal system of financing health care.
Like Malcom Fraser in the 1975 campaign, when he promised to retain Medibank and immediately began dismantling it after the election, John Howard knew that a full frontal attack on Medicare could have cost him the 1996 election.
Our current Prime Minister …
Tony Abbott once jokingly described himself as the ideological love child of John Howard and Bronwyn Bishop.
Federal Health Minister, Peter Dutton, The 7.30 Report, February 19, 2014 …
SARAH FERGUSON: You said in your speech today that in the past 10 years the cost of Medicare has increased by 120 per cent, the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme by 90 per cent, hospital care by 80 per cent. You say that’s not sustainable and something must be done. What exactly is it that you are planning to do?
PETER DUTTON: Well the first thing that we have to do is have a conversation with the Australian people to say that we want to strengthen and modernise Medicare. It’s a system that, obviously, all Australians, including myself, hold near and dear …
SARAH FERGUSON: And is that going to require a new form of means testing to make that possible?
PETER DUTTON: Well, not necessarily, and again, this is the recommendations that we’ll wait to see from the Commission of Audit. I want to make sure that, for argument’s sake, we have a discussion about you or me on reasonable incomes whether we should expect to pay nothing when we go to see the doctor, when we go to have a blood test, should we expect to pay nothing as a co-contribution and other taxpayers to pick up that bill. I think these are all reasonable discussions for our population to have.
Former Labor Federal Health Minister, Tanya Plibersek …
Tony Abbott’s health minister. One interview. The main points:
1. Under Tony Abbott universal healthcare through Medicare is over.
2. Under Tony Abbott ordinary families should be forced pay to see a GP.
3. Under Tony Abbott keeping the junk food industry happy is more important than keeping people healthy.
And we all lived happily ever after.