A Commission of Audit, set up by the Abbott government, is currently considering a proposal to make people pay $5 or $6 out-of-pocket to visit a doctor. A copayment fee of this nature would hit the working poor and women the hardest. It would be a step towards the dismantling of Medicare as we know it and needs to be opposed.
Even if saving money was the primary consideration this type of policy would not work. Proponents of the idea claim that a copayment would be a disincentive for people attending a doctor with relatively minor issues.
While it would be a disincentive, regular visits and routine preventive treatment often leads to early intervention and therefore savings in the long term. It actually costs the system less if long term complications can be dealt with early reducing the need for more expensive ongoing care.
Similarly if people are reluctant to visit their doctor because of costs, and their health worsens, it is likely that they will instead visit a hospital emergency department or even call an ambulance. Again this is more expensive and an inefficient way of treating people.
While $5 or $6 may not seem like much, with cost of living pressures increasing, it is a significant amount to low income earners. While the proposal as it stands would not affect people on health care cards it would hurt many who are in low paid and casual jobs and sit just above the eligibility threshold.
Women are often principal carers making it necessary for them visit doctors more regularly. A copayment fee would therefore also hit them disproportionately.
At the moment people already pay a tax for healthcare. The Medicare levy is 1.5% of most people’s taxable income. A copayment fee would therefore be a form of double taxation that impacts those least able to pay the most.
In the past movements of working class people campaigned and won relatively free healthcare. This is how Medicare first came about. Against the backdrop of economic crisis governments are now trying to wind these gains back. Side by side with massive cuts to health spending they want to move to a user-pays private system where healthcare is a commodity to make profits off.
If the Abbott government was successful in introducing a copayment fee it would be the thin edge of the wedge. Just like with the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) the cost and scope of the fee would quickly increase. We need to stop this proposal in its tracks. Trade unions and community groups need to organise mass action to defend and extend Medicare.
Far from being a commodity, access to healthcare should be seen as a basic human right. We need to oppose any further attacks on Medicare and campaign for a genuinely free and universal healthcare system – including free access to dental and mental healthcare.
The only way to secure such an important reform is to fight for an economic system that doesn’t seek to continually undermine people’s living standards. A democratic socialist system would remove the profit motive and use society’s resources to prioritise people’s health and needs. Side by side with fighting any attacks on Medicare this is the type of system the Socialist Party fights for.
The Socialist Party demands:
– That accessible healthcare is offered to all as a basic human right.
– That doctors visits should remain free. No to co-payments for GP’s visits.
– Tax big business to fund investment in the public health system. This would wipe out waiting lists and create jobs.
– An extended free and universal healthcare system that includes access to dental and mental healthcare.
– Bring private health providers into public hands and under community control to ensure the system is run to meet people’s needs. No to profiteering off our health!
By Anthony Main