Medicare the loser in bid to shore up private health

Issue 

Medicare the loser in bid to shore up private health

By Susan Laszlo

Just a few days after federal health minister Dr Michael Wooldridge announced new measures supporting private health insurance, figures released by the Private Health Insurance Administrative Council (PHIAC) show that more people are opting out of private health insurance funds.

Under Wooldridge's proposed amendments to private health insurance laws, private hospitals will be allowed to negotiate fees with doctors.

According to Dr Con Costa, national president of the Doctors' Reform Society, the new measures are simply more "window dressing" to cover support for private health funds at the expense of Medicare.

"It is impossible for patients to negotiate medical fees and doctor costs directly. I remember spending half a morning with multiple phone calls to a surgeon's secretary on behalf of a patient."

Costa says that the federal government has no power to legislate to control doctors' costs and that "surgeons are unlikely to cooperate in any event".

"Private health care is dying because people are voting with their feet. They prefer the simplicity and low cost of Medicare. It would be far more cost wise and democratic to follow the people's lead and properly fund Medicare rather than keep cutting costs", said Costa.

The PHIAC figures, collected over three months to June, reveal that some 107,000 people opted out of private cover.

"Private health is a failed industry which is being bankrolled with taxpayers' money. The recent tax incentives for private health insurance by the federal government are costing $500 to $600 million a year, but without any benefit to patients. Private beds in our public hospitals are subsidised to the tune of $200 a day by the taxpayer. Despite all this support, the private system remains in crisis", said Costa.