Last Tuesday night, the Abbott government delivered what could be the death knell for universal healthcare.
Hockey’s federal budget outlined the introduction of a $7 co-payment for GP visits, for pathology, and for diagnostic imaging. The move has significant cost of living implications for all Australians and is of particular concern for those living with chronic disease or disability.
Research has found that people on low incomes benefit most from free healthcare. It further suggests that those on low incomes are hit hardest when health care costs rise.
The RAND study concluded that the poorest and sickest fared better under a universal healthcare system. Community members saw a 10% reduction in mortality through management of blood pressure, far better dental outcomes, serious symptoms were less prevalent, and optical care was superior.
If the slated changes go through, MBS rebate for optometry services will be lowered from 85% to 80% with the charging cap removed. This move could lead to significant increases in fees for optometry services. The impact of fewer eye-checks and more expensive optometry services on the vision of may low-income Australians is not hard to predict.
Co-payments for PBS medications are set to rise from $37.70 to $42.70 and up to $6.90 for concession cardholders. The impact of this move will again fall hardest Australia’s most vulnerable.
As the cost of medication increases so to does the rate of patient non-compliance with the prescription regime. Studies suggest that this leads to poor healthcare outcomes and serious inefficiencies.
The most worrying aspect of this budget, in terms of health outcomes, are the attacks on preventative healthcare. The National Preventative Health Agency looks like being axed. The National Partnership Agreement on Preventive Health will cease and the next phase of the Australian National Preventive Health Agency’s mainstream National Tobacco Campaign will be replaced by a lower cost campaign.
These measures are set to save the budget an estimated $377 million. The long terms costs of an increase in prevalence of preventable disease however have not been factored into the equation.
It’s anticipated that the budget will result in a rise in unemployment. The 6 month wait for income support for under 30s has lead the National Welfare Rights Network to predict a rise in homelessness. These changes are likely to impact the health of many Australians with the link between health and income already well established. With welfare cuts compounded by the higher cost of healthcare, the effect of the budget could be devastating for young people, pensioners, and others on low incomes- the people that universal healthcare was designed to protect.
If these measures pass the senate, the outcomes for our most vulnerable and the Health sector more broadly will be dire. Let the Abbott government know that you want a fair and equitable healthcare system by attending the March for Medicare on the 30th May. The rally starts 5.30pm outside the State Library. Lets make sure we let the government know that our health is at stake.