Opinion: Means test to help fix health mess

Peter FiorenzaGeraldton Guardian
An elderly woman rests on the floor at Geraldton Hospital.
Camera IconAn elderly woman rests on the floor at Geraldton Hospital. Credit: Neil MacLachlan / Facebook

The recent images of an elderly woman lying on the floor in the emergency department at Geraldton Hospital were shocking.

The incident brought into question our health system once again, with respected local medical practitioner Dr Ian Taylor weighing in on the issue.

Dr Taylor has been a long-time campaigner for improving medical facilities and services in the Mid West.

On this occasion he cited the fact the private St John of God Hospital does not operate an emergency facility as a major factor.

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Dr Taylor alludes to a growing problem that is not just restricted to the emergency department.

The St John of God facility has a limited occupancy with many empty beds, while Geraldton Hospital is overflowing.

It simply doesn’t make sense.

Now I believe there are a couple of problems at play here.

Firstly, when our government health centre was upgraded several years ago, the result was a hospital with fewer beds than the one it replaced.

The original Geraldton Regional Hospital was built in the late 1960s.

The population in the area since then has more than tripled.

But the second and biggest problem is the very structure of our health system.

This was put under scrutiny again recently when it was reported people were opting to visit a hospital emergency department rather than their GP.

This, I believe, was because they wanted to avoid the fee that went with visiting their doctor.

This is a further symptom of a system in decay.

It would seem every second month the price of private health insurance cover rises — mainly because more and more people are opting out.

Government hospital emergency facilities are battling to cope and there is a shortage of beds at government hospitals while private hospitals are half-empty.

Private health premiums are constantly going up, leading people to opt out of private cover because they can’t afford it, so premiums go up again because there are not enough people taking out private cover and it’s causing a shortfall.

What is going on?

In a perfect world, it would be great if the Government could effectively look after everyone’s medical costs and deliver a sustainable medical system.

I’ve come to the conclusion that Australia cannot.

Without getting political or ideological, there definitely needs to be a pragmatic approach taken.

Imagine if people started taking their children out of Catholic and private schools tomorrow?

There is no doubt the government school system would collapse.

This is the very reason why Catholic and private schools are partially funded by governments. It is a lot easier on the taxpayer than having to build extra schools.

So why can’t we take such an approach with health?

Canberra should start means-testing people so if you earn over a certain amount you will not have access to government health benefits and must take out private cover with tax incentives.

I know it’s a bit blunt and hard to swallow, but if this happened, I guarantee there would be a huge change in the status quo.

The pressure on government hospitals would be less, more beds would be filled in hospitals like St John of God and there would be less strain on facilities in both systems.

In fact, the level of quality care in both systems would increase and probably be on a par with government and private patients receiving adequate attention.

The stumbling block, of course, is the politicians.

A bipartisan approach is definitely needed if we are to get out of this mess.

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