Australia recently had an election (I know, easy to miss). As with most elections, amid incredibly tedious “debates” in which two candidates compete to see who can evade a question in the fewest words, there were plenty of scare campaigns to frighten us all into voting. In Aussie politics, this is old hat; whether it is the cry of a “budget emergency” or the truly terrifying image of tight red budgy smugglers, we have all grown used to a politician standing up and telling us that not voting for them will cost us our livelihoods, health, country and even sometimes our lives.
This election campaign was no different. You may have heard current Treasurer, Scott Morrison (he of the Scomophobic fame) saying that Labor has a War on Jobs (which is ridiculous, everyone with an internet connection knows that Jobs was killed by the CIA). Other scary slogans surrounded carbon taxes, renewables and electricity, to name a few. But all of this paled in comparison to Labor’s campaign against the Liberals privatizing Medicare, dubbed Mediscare in what can only be described as my favorite pun of the election.
The central argument of the Mediscare campaign is this; that the coalition’s now-discarded plan to outsource Medicare’s back end (mostly billing and data) constitutes an attack on the fundamentals of our universal healthcare system. It doesn’t sound unreasonable, particularly given the long-standing Liberal stance that Medicare is an expensive waste of time, and that we should focus on important things like tax breaks for the wealthy. It sounded so good that many are crediting Mediscare with tipping the vote in favor of Labor at a time when the Liberals were sure-fire winners. There’s just one problem;
Privatizing Medicare might be a good idea.
“But Gid!” I hear you say (God I wish I could drown out the voices) “You’ve previously written about how the Liberals are trying to destroy Medicare due to their concrete stance on increasing the private contribution towards healthcare and decreasing the government spend!”. And you’d be right, well-informed voice. There’s no question that ideologically and politically the Coalition government has a strong desire to push the country towards a more Americanized system, where most payments are made privately and government assistance is only for the most needy. But since Medicare’s creation, there have been remarkably few actual reforms in how the system works; we are essentially still using a payment/data system designed in the 80’s. Doctors in particular are outspoken on the need for reform, with issues like payment times and software integration causing headaches for many, if not most Medicare customers.
And privatization could really help with all of these problems. Selling off the back end of Medicare is extremely unlikely to cause an increase in expense for the taxpayer, and would probably make it easier for all of us to access vital services.
And now we come to the real reason behind Mediscare; voters know that the Coalition can’t be trusted with our healthcare system. The recent attacks, particularly the rebate freeze, have made it inevitable that no one will believe a word that they say when it comes to Medicare. Whilst privatization is probably a good thing, given their constant rapacious cuts to health voters are right to mistrust the Coalition’s motives. And this is a shame, because privatization could be the Viagra to our ageing Medicare systems; allowing us to go hard and fast towards a brighter future. It’s even worse given that neither major party has a real plan on what to do with Medicare now; we can’t leave it as it is, but without privatizing the back end, it’s going to cost huge amounts of money to bring Medicare into the modern era.
The crux of the problem is that without significant political willpower, Medicare is doomed. Not because doctors are getting paid less for services, but simply because real reform is scary and difficult.
And courage is the one thing our politicians have in short supply.