Time to overhaul Medicare

Health insurer nib has voiced its strong support for Federal Minister for Health, The Honourable Peter Dutton’s call for a discussion in relation to the income testing of Medicare and health insurance coverage for GPs.

“Full marks to the Minister for starting the conversation - it’s well overdue,” said nib’s Chief Executive Officer, Mr Mark Fitzgibbon.

“It goes without saying that as a nation we need a system like Medicare to ensure no one runs the risk of missing out on essential healthcare because of their income,” Mr Fitzgibbon said.

“Medicare is vitally important to ensure we have a healthy population and very importantly it signals that we have a just and fair society,” he said.

“But it’s a safety net and the notion that it should be free to people irrespective of their income is plain crazy.

“Providing free healthcare to those who can readily protect themselves against medical risks simply takes resources and funding from the safety net. It’s one of the reasons we have the problems we do with public hospital waiting times, variable quality and servicing rural communities,” he added.

According to Mr Fitzgibbon, people with the income to take responsibility for their healthcare should be required to do so.

“People with the means should be required to take out private health insurance and insurers should be able to cover the full gamut of healthcare services including GPs,” he said.

“Requiring people with sufficient income to take out health insurance is hardly a radical idea. Many countries in Europe do just that and now of course, so too does the USA as part of Obamacare. In any case, we already have a compulsory health insurance system called Medicare. There just isn’t any competition or consumer choice,” he added.

Mr Fitzgibbon said allowing health insurers to cover GPs would be a big step in the right direction. “It’s crazy we insurers can’t legally reward a GP for working more closely with us to manage chronically ill patients. There’s no doubt we can bring a level of technological and other support to clinical decision-making and we know the GP isn’t ever going to buy into anything that might compromise health outcomes for their patients.

“GPs themselves, patients, health insurance consumers and the public health system as well as Government finances all stand to benefit from health insurers being closely involved with GPs,” he said.

Mr Fitzgibbon added Medicare was born out of an ideology that claims unless Australia had a Government monopoly ruling healthcare, the nation would end up with inefficiencies and a two tier system whereby the rich have their high quality system and the poor an inferior system. And that somehow the healthcare system would be more efficient.

“The idea we’d end up with an inefficient system which divides better off people from not so wealthy is ideological scaremongering. Apart from defence or policing, when has a public monopoly ever been more efficient than a private competitive market?”

“We should have a system in which health insurers, including the social insurer Medicare, compete for customers based upon service quality, performance and price. Government’s job becomes regulating the system and subsiding with tax dollars those who can’t otherwise afford premiums,” Mr Fitzgibbon said.