19 November 2003

Not much of a Plus for Medicare

Mr Howard also promised that under MedicarePlus what he called the three pillars of Medicare would be retained: free treatment for public patients in public hospitals, a rebate of 85 per cent of the scheduled fee for doctors' visits outside hospitals and the provision of affordable medication through the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. But there is a fourth pillar, bulk-billing, that has always underpinned the universality of Medicare, and MedicarePlus would do little to stem the decline in bulk-billing. Doctors will get incentives to bulk-bill children and concession-card holders, which is an improvement on Senator Patterson's scheme, but the level of funds remains insufficient to make bulk-billing attractive to doctors in treating all categories of patient. As The Age has argued before, however, there is a source of funds that could be used to make bulk-billing viable. Abolishing the private health insurance rebate would relieve the taxpayer of the burden of propping up inefficient private funds and allow $2.2 billion a year to be diverted to Medicare. That really would be a plus.

I have never understood why subsidising the private health insurers is somehow exempt from the neoliberal policies otherwise held sacred by this government.

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