I was at a function just last week and the speaker was trying to offer up an incredibly brief summary of Medicare – in light of its uncertain future.
The story goes that back in the 1940’s, during and post WWII, the Federal Labor Government through Curtin and Chifley invested in a national approach to research and eradicate the disease Tuberculosis.
Motivated by the success in the fight against Tuberculosis, Chifley floated the idea of a national health care scheme where every man, woman and child, would be able to access top quality health care, no matter how much, or importantly, how little, money they had.
The Menzies era of Liberal Government followed for the next 20+ years, and no progress was made on a national health care scheme.
Then came a bloke called Whitlam who would offer up a public health scheme that would fulfil Chifley’s idea. Whitlam called it Medibank. Incredibly, it passed our Federal Lower House, held by a Labor majority, in ’72, ’73 and ’75, but was blocked and refused each time by the Liberal-National controlled Senate. Finally, in late 1975, with a Joint Sitting of both Houses, the federal scheme of Medibank was passed and activated.
Sadly, with a change of Government, the new Liberal Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser, would dismantle Medibank far more quickly than it had been built.
A national health care scheme would then be left in the never-never until the next labor Government was voted in to office in 1983. The new Prime Minister Hawke would re-establish a federal health scheme, and he called it Medicare.
Over a 35+ year period, there was a clear pattern that Labor believed that the scheme should exist and that the Liberal Party believed that it should not.
If we now fast forward another 33 years, the time since Hawke was elected, there are some tell-tale signs that Medicare might be being gradually pulled apart and stripped down, right before our eyes.
To cite some examples, the Federal Liberal Government has massively decreased funding in State Hospitals, they have sought to introduce the GP co-payment, and they have moved to block bulk billing of blood tests.
You might have thought that after all these decades, with Medicare having helped so many, there might finally be a consensus to keep it the way it is. Sadly it seems the struggle goes on.
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