My doctor's smarter than most

  • by Michael - March 22, 2015 - 1:37pm

Asian doctor, Medicare card and stethoscope

During a recent visit I asked my doctor what he thought of the GP co-payment plan. His surprising answer was that it was good for Australia but not so good for his income. Clearly Novocastrian general practitioners must be smarter than those in the rest of Australia. Or maybe they’re just more honest! We have a massive cash-flow problem with our healthcare system. Either we keep increasing the amount of cash flowing into the system or accept that when the crash comes, it will adversely affect every Australian not covered by private health insurance. Arguably we have the world’s best socialised medical services. New Zealanders would debate this point (as usual) but we are a very fortunate people. Unfortunately, we take Medicare for granted at our peril.

The push-back over a $7.00 co-payment was unfathomable for many. Our citizens fail to grasp why Medicare works so well. Medicare functions effectively thanks to scarcity of supply. This is generally known in the community as waiting lists. If it’s urgent cancer treatment you require your priority on the waiting list is raised, while those in need of a replacement knee or hip must wait a little longer for surgery. The system has served us exceedingly well so far. Nothing is perfect, but we seem to have the balance right.

A crisis looms if we can’t fund the levels of service we expect in the future. The projected cost increases are alarming. One example cited by the Government states that annual treatment costs for some types of cancer have risen from $100M to $500M in just 5 years! The treasurer’s modelling suggests that the cost of Medicare will nearly double in the next decade. The numbers are big, but failure to resolve the problem means that waiting lists will increase drastically. Weeks will become months, and months could possibly become years. Hip replacements may take many years if you’re on the public waiting list.

Compromises will have to be made. Do smokers, drinkers and the obese receive the same benefits as those who live a more chastened lifestyle? Do kids with cancer get treatment while aged citizens miss out because the young are deemed a better investment for the future? Our compassion may simply become unaffordable. How do we deal with contingencies like a flu epidemic or increased resistance to antibiotics? We need to have this debate and accept that if the levels of service we enjoy now are to be maintained, then changes in attitude must be made. This is not a Labor, Liberal, Nationals or Greens issue. It’s our grandchildren who will suffer if we fail to confront and deal with this urgent challenge right now.