The Abbott government’s first federal budget plans to introduce $7 out-of-pocket “copayment” fee to visit a doctor. Plainly speaking the plan will push a much bigger burden of medical costs onto individuals and families and work to shift control of health care further towards corporate interests.
By Kirk Leonard, Socialist Party
Twin claims by the government that the copayment fee is essential for the federal budget and will improve the health system have already proven to be false. Doctors and medical professionals have pointed to the fact that routine checks, preventative health care and early intervention mean a healthier population overall and therefore a cheaper and more efficient health system. Moreover, the argument that there is not enough money in the budget – let alone the country as a whole – to fund Medicare as it exists is a lie.
Billions of dollars of corporate subsidies exist in the federal budget, for example to the mining and fossil fuel corporations. This alone shows that the copayment fee is an ideological choice, not a technical inevitability. At the same time billions more could easily be raised to maintain and expand health services by lifting tax rates on capital, profits and super wealthy individuals.
Alongside copayments the Coalition also plans to allow the state governments to charge people for visits to hospital emergency rooms. The end of free access to doctors will be used as a beach head for further assaults on public funding for health care. Price rises will inevitably be steep and quick.
Most people see full and free access to health care as a basic human right and the mark of a modern progressive society. They rightly recoil at the idea that health care should be treated as a commodity to be profited from, but this is the logic of capitalism. The politicians who adhere to this system must follow its rules.
Public funding of health care was not simply provided on the whim of benevolent or noble politicians. On the contrary, Australia has a rich history of mass movements that have fought to win and keep social advances, including Medicare.
In 1976 the Fraser Liberal government attempted to wind back the universal, free healthcare system of the time, named Medibank. In response, the Australian Council of Trade Unions called a nationwide 24-hour strike on July 12. This was the last real nationwide strike in Australia. These are the traditions we must draw on to defend and extend Medicare today.
While the government may face some problems getting the changes through the Senate, we should not rest our hopes on parties horse trading one cut or increase for another. Both the Liberals and Labor, as well as the Greens and the Palmer party, have indicated they support some increases, cuts to public spending and privatisations. None of the parties in the Senate have any alternative to the profit driven system and its consequences.
Instead of relying on politicians ordinary people need to draw on their own potential power to stop the Coalition’s plans. The protests against the budget measures so far have been good but they need to be taken to a higher level. A national 24-hour general strike would be a good next step in helping people to recognise their collective strength. Just like in 1976 it would shake the government and their backers to the core.
Ultimately we need to build a mass movement that links the fight against the budget measures to the fight to end the profit driven system. Only a democratic socialist society – where services are publicly owned and run for peoples needs instead of profit – can permanently guarantee free and universal health care and put an end to the major parties austerity agenda.