Patients first?

By February 5, 2023Australian Politics, Society

At the meeting of the National Cabinet on Friday, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese (I’m still feeling relieved Morrison is no longer PM) said that Medicare needs reform and that care needs to be patient-centred1. It is hard to disagree with that, as it is stating the bleeding obvious.

As readers of this blog will know, I had a hip replacement in August last year2, and after leaving hospital, I spent three mornings every week for 6 weeks doing rehab to hurry the recovery up3. It worked spectacularly well, such that now I can walk without any pain. Prior to the surgery, every step was accompanied by pain, such that to help ease it a bit I had to shorten my pace. Despite this, the greater the distance I walked the worse the pain became, anyway. In May last year I went for a walk of about 4km and by the end of that, I was sweating bullets and was in agony.

We have private health insurance and for which we pay $245 per fortnight (i.e. $6,370 per annum). Included in that is hospital and extras (i.e. optical, physiotherapy, dental etc.). If I had to pay full fare for my hip replacement it would have cost me about $33,500 for everything. This includes the following (rounded to the nearest $10):

  • Prosthesis: $10,470 (Medicare rebate; nil: Private health insurance rebate; $10,470)
  • Hospital: $10,240 (Medicare rebate; nil: Private health insurance rebate; $9,740)
  • Surgeon: $4,230 (Medicare rebate; $1,040: Private health insurance rebate; $350)
  • Assistant surgeon: $850 (Medicare rebate; $210: Private health insurance rebate; $70)
  • Anaesthetist: $3,110 (Medicare rebate; $600: Private health insurance rebate; $200)
  • Imaging: $200 (Medicare rebate; $80: Private health insurance rebate; $25)
  • Pathology: $190 (Medicare rebate; $100: Private health insurance rebate; $30)
  • Pharmacy: $70 (Medicare rebate; nil: Private health insurance rebate; nil)
  • Rehabilitation: $4,180 (Medicare rebate; nil: Private health insurance; $4,180)

Most of these bills were paid in advance and the rebates claimed subsequently. Fortunately, we could afford these as they trickled in over the month after the surgery. However, it would have been a struggle if we had no private health insurance. Of course, if we did not have private health insurance, I would have probably just had to join the queue in the public system and wait until a surgeon became available. Currently, that means I could have waited anything up to a year, as a hip replacement is category 3 elective surgery4. As it was, the time between the first consultation with the surgeon and the surgery was 27 days. While I was relieved to get it done so quickly, it is appalling that people who cannot afford private health insurance have to suffer, probably for months. This is symptomatic of what is wrong with our current society; the wealthy are looked after, while the poor suffer. This is, itself, all part of the system which has been termed neoliberal or trickle-down economics, or market fundamentalism. This has developed to a point where the poor are looked upon as scum, and are to be made to suffer because of their perceived deficiencies in character. Poverty is not caused by people’s character deficiencies, it is caused by government policy. It exists not because we cannot eradicate poverty but because we cannot satisfy the wealthy.  Nobody should have to suffer more than anyone else just because they are not as wealthy. The fact that the poor do suffer more than anyone else in one of the wealthiest nations on the planet is unacceptable.



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