Poor fella me

I’m sick. This is very unusual, as I am never sick.
That’s if you don’t count hangovers, of course.
So, being a sick little puppy, I dragged myself off to the doctor. I entered with some trepidation, what with the media being full of ‘health crisis’ headlines.
There is of course a crisis in Australia’s health care…

The medical indemnity crisis that is exploding in Australia is caused by a massive increase in medical indemnity insurance. This has many causes, but it seems to me that one cause is that there’s a surfeit of lawyers in Australia. At any rate, a GP now needs to spend prodigious sums to insure themselves against lawsuits. Specialists are leaving the profession as a result of having to insure themselves up to 25 years after they retire.
Needless to say, the result of this is that doctors need more money. And so now they bill their patients.
Under the old scheme, most doctors would ‘bulk-bill’. You’d hand over your medicare card, sign a form, and the doctor would send a bill off to the Federal government, who would pay the doctor a set fee.
Now, few doctors can do that and make enough money to live on. So they charge their own fees, and what happens is that you give your medicare card, sign a form, pay the bill, (In my case it was $35) and you get a cheque back for about $25 back from the government in six weeks time.
This is not entirely a bad thing. For one thing, doctors surgeries are less cluttered then of old, as hypocondriacs are cleared out. Amazing how you can soldier on when you have to pony up money.
As it is, doctors at my surgery still are willing to bulk bill for old people and people hard on their luck. This is an ideal system to me. Those of us who are earning a living should pay doctors what they are worth, and the government helps out for the genuinely hard up.
The Australian health care system is pretty good; despite what you hear in the media about a ‘crisis’ caused by lack of funding. Next time you read such a headline, ask yourself when was the last time that you heard a government funded health, or education, or whatever system say that ‘we have enough money’. There is a crisis caused by the readiness of Australians to sue their doctor at the drop of a stethescope, but that isn’t the government’s fault.
Be that as it may, I entered the doctor’s surgery, and introduced myself to the doctor. (My regular doctor only works two days a week.) I was quickly examined, the doctor explained the nature of the flu that I have, prescribed me some antibiotics, and sent me on my way. Fast, prompt, friendly and efficient.
Amazing how there’s not much of a crisis when there’s no lawyers or politicians present.



  1. Michael Jennings

    Depends whether there is a secondary bacterial infection or not. But yes, generally taking them for flu is a bad idea, as it doesn’t help and also build up bacterial resistance.
    I will merely observe also that the Australian health service is far, far better than that of Britain. The difference is that in Britain everyone actually ultimately works for the government, whereas in Australia most healthcare is done privately, but the government merely pays a portion of the cost. So the Australian public health system largely is a system of compulsory insurance rather than an immense government run bureaucracy. (Australia does have public hospitals which are paid for by the government, so it is not entirely like that if you have to be admitted by a hospital, but for most of us that does not happen very often, and a lot of people have (non-compulsory but government subsidised) insurance that allows us to go to private hospitals even in this instance.
    This is not perfect – far from it. If I could I would reform it dramatically. But I still will observe that it is far better than Britain.

  2. wen

    You can go to your local medicare office – hand over your card & the bill (no forms!) and have your money refunded immediately (& just as immediately spend it).

  3. Waste

    Micheal, did you ever consider that the NHS is just a picture of what our health care system will look like in 20-30 years time, when it has been around as long as the NHS and has mutated into a dystopian nightmare? Admittedly the socialisation of Australian health care has proceeded from some different premises and down slightly different lines than those of the NHS, but I get this awful feeling that, while the scenery may be a bit different on the way, the holiday camp at the end will be much the same, and more Belsen than Butlins.
    The trouble is you’ve taken a desirable good and made it nominally free, so demand is infinite – so there will never be enough money, not even close.
    But as with education, if you take the $/patient spent in the private system and multiply by public patients, you’ll get some idea of what it should cost for what we are getting. And as with doing the same basic maths for private vs public education, the difference between this number and $ actually spent is a bit shocking.

  4. Michael Jennings

    Waste: I don’t think it will. The NHS was typical of more or less everything the British were doing in the immediate post war period, which is utterly nationalise everything. In Australia we didn’t do that, but we went more for keeping things in the private sector but regulating them to death (and often protecting their monopolies/duopolies/oligopolies in law). Although Medicare was introduced later, it is typical of this. For Medicare to become as bad as the NHS it would require a lot of what is presently in the private sector to be nationalised, and in this day and age I just cannot see this happening.
    And while you are quite right that if you make a nominal good free then demand is infinite and you have a disaster (and inevitably you end up with long queues), one reason why Australia is better is that a fair portion of it is not free. That is, we have gaps between what the doctor charges and what Medicare pays, and these must be paid by the patient. In Britain, if I need to see a specialist, I have to wait for six months, but when I do see the specialist I don’t pay anyting. In Australia I can probably see a specialist within a fortnight, but I will probably have to pay half the doctor’s charge – the government will pay the other half. Although I am out of pocket a little bit in Australia, I still find being able to see a good doctor when I am sick – which I certainly can in Australia – a vast improvement over what happens in Britain.
    I am not even saying I am a huge fan of the Australian system – I would prefer a much freer market and much more of a “user pays” system – however I stand by what I said, which is that the Australian system is much better than the British system, and this is largely because more of the Australian system is in the private sector, albeit a regulated and hobbled private sector.