The Great Rip-Off: Paying More, Getting Less from Health Care

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As millions of people with private health insurance are paying progressively more for health care, the current challenges with GPs and the failure of health policies to provide for their members’ needs have come to the fore. Despite the difficulties being experienced by those who need the cover, the government maintains things are more favourable now than they were in the days of the Coalition government.

The owner of the country’s biggest medical centre has made a public appeal to the government to allocate more funding to GP services over those offered by podiatry and physiotherapy, saying that a 15% reduction in funding has made a dent in the productivity of the health sector. The statement was motivated by data that said the real government spend on general practitioners had dropped from $353.10 to $299.40 per patient from 2007 to 2012, coinciding with cut backs on rebates for mental illness and nurses’ incentive payments.

He said the consequences of these changes had meant waiting times had increased by 5.6% for patients who needed GP services. He also claimed that unless immediate action was taken the queues of patients were likely to get longer. He said the answer was in funding.

He suggested that funds should be allocated correctly and that GPs should receive CPI-related increases to encourage more young people to want to become GPs and doctors. GPs currently receive subsidies for individual services, from the government, that range from medical check-ups to creating specialist lifestyle management plans for people with chronic diseases. The arrangement also entitles the patient to certain ancillary services.

He also went on to say the problems encountered by GPs were impacting on the entire public health system. The impact of the delay on patients’ health, because of their inability to secure appointments soon enough, was also of concern. He claimed also that the decrease in funding had resulted in a loss of productivity from GPs and said that the solution was for the government to reduce the $500 million budget for Medical Locals administrative services to accumulate funds for GPs. He motivated this by saying that, while money was being spent, it was being misallocated.

Some health insurance companies have spoken out against the means testing, with the primary concern being the pressure the public health system will be placed under. The Health Minister’s Office has subsequently spoken out in support of GPs, adding the bulk billing rates are currently just under 82% and a vast improvement on the 67% that had been the norm under the Coalition government.

January saw debate raised over the alleged discrimination exercised by some insurance companies when dealing with members who have mental illnesses like anxiety and schizophrenia. It has been claimed that some insurers charge higher premiums to people who fall into this category or do not allow them travel or life insurance because they are categorically deemed “high risk”.

The news has come to the fore as a number of Western Australian locals have initiated class action against the insurance industry. Discrimination has been claimed as insurers classify all mental illnesses in the same category when looking at risk profiles. Despite these clauses, the lobbyists claim there is no scientific or medical evidence to support the notion that people who have mental illnesses are any higher risk than those who do not.

There are approximately 3 million Australians who suffer from mental illness, who have to endure the stress of being discriminated against, say the lobbyists. As a result of this some may even put off taking out insurance. The matter has got itself caught in some sticky red tape, with the insurance council’s regulatory body saying the medical sector would need to provide differential definitions for mental illnesses before any changes could be made to policies and their fine print.

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