Saturday, 29 August 2009


My forty-five year old daughter arrived back in Australia on Thursday night from a beautiful ten-day holiday in Malaysia. She had become ill on the day of departure with what she believed was food poisoning. She didn't emerge from her bedroom yesterday. Then, about 4pm yesterday, Friday, I am sitting in my office next to her bedroom. I could hear her shivering and groaning. The short version is that I got her to the Emergency Department of one of Melbourne's major public hospitals just fifteen minutes from our home.

I won't bore you with a blow by blow description but her illness was treated seriously. In fact she did not make it into a hospital bed until 8.30am this morning because her condition was difficult to stabilise and at one stage it was thought that she would have to be prepared for surgery. Finally, she made it to the ward and, because of her condition, was placed in a private room with ensuite. The majority of the beds are in four-bed rooms. At this stage, I don't see my daughter coming home before Monday at least. She is still very, very ill and is receiving drip after drip with anti-biotics and the nurses continue to take heaps of blood from her for testing.

My daughter and I believe that she is receiving the best of treatment appropriate to her condition. Over her bed is a list of four streams of medics who work in this ward. The streams comprise teams of four doctors, two of whom are Associate Professors. Clearly, there are experienced people on hand for consultation.

And all of this will not result in a bill - not for the hospital bed; not for the medical and nursing care; not for the pharmaceuticals. My daughter carries no health insurance. She, like all tax-paying Australians, pays what is known as the Medicare Levy. This is paid annually when individuals submit their income tax return and is calculated as a percentage of income. Australians receive a green plastic card with an identifying number. All that had to happen at the hospital is that my daughter presented her Medicare Card.

Australians can also take out medical insurance which will cover them over and above Medicare for treatment by a private practitioner in a private hospital. My daughter choses not to carry private medical insurance. And the majority of Australians have to be cajoled, encouraged, and all but co-erced into taking out private insurance - because Medicare meets adequately the needs of the majority of Australians. In fact, it is often stated that should individuals need emergency care such as being involved in a road accident, they will be taken - irrespective of private insurance - in the first instance to the emergency department of a public hospital and their care from then on will be all that could expected - and all on Medicare.

PBS logo
In addition to Medicare, Australia also has the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. The elderly in this country do not have to make criminals of themselves by smuggling in cheap pharmaceuticals because otherwise they would be deprived of adequate medication. The Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme provides prescribed medication (not all, but most medication needs by most people) at reasonable prices to Australians.

As a person in receipt of the Aged Pension, I pay a small co-payment only. For instance, I can purchase Ventolin for my asthma over the counter. But my medical practitioner writes me a script for this pharmaceutical and its costs me only the co-payment. This makes a lot of difference for me.

It is important for procedures to have a Medicare number. A major development in the last few years under the Howard Government (the Conservative side of politics in Australia known as the Liberal-National Party Coalition) was the introduction of a process of Health Care Plans in Australia. Health Care Plans were open to individuals who suffered from two or more chronic conditions and was worked out with the patient and their medical practitioner.

It means that the services of allied health care professionals can now be accessed under Medicare when previously the cost of these services would be met entirely by the individual. I can now access, should I wish or need them, podiatry; psychology; dietary and nutrition; and dental services. Dental services were the most important to me. Dentists have dodged any Medicare involvement. This has been of increasing controversy as it has become clear what impact poor dental health has upon overall health of individuals.

The Howard Government adopted a health care plan which I could access through my local Community Health Service. These Services are widespread in my home state of Victoria. The new program entitled me, on referral from my medical practitioner under my Health Care Plan, to $4,250 in dental care. This came at a time when I need a lot of dental work which I could not afford. I was able to get all that I needed done. Although my wonderful young dentist (my own choice from a list available) did say that he did exceed the $4,250 cost. By how much, I don't know. Needless, to say I was impressed by the new program. Not only for myself. I felt a young dentist starting out in his own practice was able to get a boost in business as well.

I have written all this for citizens of the USA to read. Australians know all this stuff and have lived with it for a long, long time. A lot of the medical profession whinge about it. Many on the conservative side of politics would like to alter it if not eradicate it. However, they know that Australians are in favour of Medicare and they dare not tinker with it. In fact, years ago - when the conservative politicians used to try to tinker with it - their attitudes failed in practice and cost them votes. So Medicare is here to stay in Australia. As for the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, Big Pharma works to get its stuff on the PBS lists so it can make a killing. However, in an attempt to balance this, consumers have the opportunity to specify a cheaper generic brand when one is available.

At this time, those of us outside the USA are hearing the most stupid, lying things being said against Public Health Care in the US debate. All this fulfil's one's worst prejudices about Americans. The USA is the only developed country in the world that does not have public health care. Not only that, through work related medical insurance, it adds an impost to the cost of doing business. Strange that, in such a capitalist country.

I once heard that, averaged out on production units, at General Motors the cost of medical insurance per vehicle came to more than the cost of steel in each vehicle. How silly is that! Then was there no competent actuary to draw attention to the fact that, with retirees continuing as members of industry based medical insurance companies, there would come a time when there were more non-productive than productive members of the insurance plans? How strange is that!

So citizens of the USA, do you really think the citizens of Europe, Japan, Canada, Australia, New Zealand are prize idiots? Do you think we don't know a good deal when we see one? Do you think that we lack compassion for those on lower or no incomes?

And do you really think this is a socialist or communist idea? Well, only if you are an ignorant bigot. In Australia, we wanted a system that was fair for all; where health care would not be just for those who had sufficient resources to afford it. We wanted young families stricken with winter illness to front up for medical care without a thought about how or if they could afford it. We wanted young families to be able to go to the pharmacy and get the medication they need. That's socialist? That's communist? No. It's compassion. The compassion of Christ. The compassion of Buddha. The compassion of a shared and common humanity.

So, citizens of the USA, you - as with all of us - are accountable for your actions. You will be accountable in relation to the compassion you demonstrate; the lack of knowledge and stewardship you exhibit in relation to your ability to have both; the lies you accept and promulgate. Please consider and re-consider.

In this wonderful Land of Oz, we have a phrase - the fair go. We want to see everyone have a fair go. We don't like people who get in the way of people having a fair go. In fact, we do our block. (Loose our cool, get angry.) So Americans, give your fellow citizens a fair go with medical and dental care and pharmaceuticals. Take the load away from business and put it squarely across the taxpaying public (at the same time considering whether you have a fair taxation system). You won't regret it. You will free up a lot of human resources who are now hamstrung by debt and poor health. So get over the bigotry; forego the lies and give yourselves a healthy future.

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