Universal healthcare is one of the most monumental achievements of the Australian union movement. Founded in 1984, Medicare was established to ensure that all Australians have accessible, free healthcare.
It’s easy to forget nowadays that the medical system we’ve all come to rely on didn’t always exist – and certainly was not supported by everyone. In fact, universal healthcare was aggressively attacked by the Malcolm Fraser Liberal Government as soon as they took power in 1975. This led to one of the largest strikes in Australian history in 1976, defending our right to free healthcare.
The lesson here is simple: we should never take universal healthcare for granted. Once again, our public health system is under threat and we need to fight to protect it.
You may have noticed that fewer and fewer GP and allied health clinics these days provide bulk billing. Perhaps you’ve even received an email from your regular practice telling you that their prices are changing.
You are not alone in this – across the country, even in metro areas, bulk billing has either been scrapped entirely or out-of-pocket gaps are increasing. If you’re lucky enough to find somewhere that is still offering full bulk billing services, you’re probably going to encounter a huge wait time to be seen.
Why are so many clinics slashing bulk billing?
The amount GPs receive from Medicare for bulk-billed services has barely changed since 2013, when the Federal Government of the time introduced a freeze on reimbursements. What was meant to be a temporary measure has now been held in place for nearly a decade – a deliberate decision by the former Liberal Government to continually undermine our universal health care system.
The result is that Medicare funding as it stands just isn’t enough to cover operating costs for most GPs, such as rent, equipment and salaries of doctors, nurses, allied health professionals and administrative workers. The current inflation crisis doesn’t help matters either, for doctor or patient, but the flow on effect forces health costs back onto patients who have to pay out-of-pocket to compensate for this systemic underfunding.
Earlier this year we saw nurses and midwives in NSW and Tasmania resort to industrial action – not once but three times – to make their voices heard about the dire impacts for patients of underfunding in hospitals and underpaid workers. Now we are seeing the consequences of that underfunding in our visits to the GP.
In short, our health system is broken and if we truly want a universal, free healthcare system, we need to fix it now.
Thanks to union members efforts in protecting workers’ rights, many of us now take them for granted. Universal superannuation, Medicare, penalty rates, annual, parental and sick leave – even the weekend.
Union members have been standing up for workers for more than a century. And we’re doing the same for generations to come.