Australian Health Minister Peter Dutton declared in a speech on Thursday that his nation’s universal healthcare program is unsustainable at its current rates, and advocates are incensed at the possibility of the government slowly backing away from providing free health care.
The Sydney Morning Herald reports that Dutton spoke in anticipation of a government audit that is expected to demand reforms to streamline the government’s expenditures in the future. “The taxpayer currently funds 263 million free services a year under Medicare,” Dutton noted, a figure he described as “not sustainable” should the government’s healthcare plan look to survive in any similar form in the future. To illustrate his point, he noted how much money that amount would represent later on: “Ten years ago we were spending $8 billion on (Medicare benefits), today $19 billion and in ten years’ time more than $80 billion in 2009-10 dollars.”
The system, he added, will require new revenue through means other than taxes, which the Herald described as “advanced payment models.” These would not only impact the funding of the system, but payments made to doctors. It would potentially reward doctors with more impressive records on saving patients. Dutton also demanded a more prominent role for the private healthcare industry.
While Dutton himself did not mention it, many are anticipating that the government will begin to demand co-payments from patients for doctor’s visits. The Australian Financial Review notes that the details known of the audit recommendations considered “the introduction of patient payments for all Medicare services and emergency department visits, a hike in patient contributions for subsidised drugs, and an end to free medicines for concession card holders.”
The government is expected to propose a $6 fee to visit doctors, which some in the country consider an outrage.
Audit Chairman Tony Shepherd said, however, that what the government is looking to do is receive more contributions from wealthier citizens to help sustain the system that provides the needy with health care. “We’re saying to high income earners who can afford to look after themselves, they should look after themselves,” he explained. The audit recommends a $15 payment from general clients, the AFR notes, with discounted rates for the less privileged.
The audit investigated not just the nation’s healthcare system, but the entire budget infrastructure of the country. It found that Australia needed to make serious cuts in spending to enact a sustainable budget that would enable the government to survive in the long term without significant debts, including cuts to education and pensions.