Health of the health system

Tony Abbott has beenappointed the new head-kicking Minister for Health, and is getting a baptism of fire with the current debate over hospital funding and medical indemnity. So with that in mind, here is a short rant about health insurance from Daniel Bowen, private citizen.

I have private health insurance. Government policy practically makes it unavoidable for someone with my dizzying income level. Well actually my income isn’t really that high, but it’s high enough that if I don’t have health insurance I get stung for an extra bunch of Medicare levy. For a while, I held out, reasoning that the public health system could do with my hard-earned cash. (Or does it all go into consolidated revenue anyway?)

I caved when I realised just how much it was costing me, and when I saw someone close go into hospital, and what a difference it made that she went into a private ward, despite the mountain of paperwork required afterwards to keep the fund happy. I signed up to Medibank Private — my reasoning being that a non-profit company should theoretically be better, as it wasn’t paying out to shareholders. Well, it’s a theory.

Time went on. Medibank kept taking my money via direct debit. Then they announced that the discount for paying by direct debit was being removed. And despite the spin they put on it in the letter explaining this, it was not because of a blowout in claims or anything like that, but because the fund had made bad investment decisions. Was I pissed off? Ho yes.

A few weeks ago I went to the dentist for my regular check-up. Ah, at last, an actual chance to make a claim – to get some money back. So I handed over the insurance card to get the fund’s contribution to the bill, and… wow. They don’t pay much back, do they.

And this is my beef. The health insurance companies are raking it in from members’ contributions. They are raking more in from taxpayers via the government’s 30% rebate scheme. Speaking for myself, I’m getting precious little back. Yes I could look through the fine print in my Extras cover and work out what little bonus things I could claim for, but do I have the time for that? Hell no.

It seems like either everyone is getting ripped off (both personally or as tax payers), or that private health insurance simply isn’t an efficient business. Either way, it seems illogical for the Federal Government to keep subsidising it to this degree. With a rapidly aging population, the Lifetime Health Cover idea (which provides growing subsidies as people get older) in particular seems like the very model of an unsustainable scheme.

If I could avoid getting hit with the extra levy, I’d probably prefer to self-insure. And as for the taxpayer funds paying for all these discounts, well they could be simply be channelled into the public health system instead.

But then, a lot of things would be different if I ran the world.

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