Rudd’s healthcare ‘reforms’ give a boost to the profiteers

Given the appalling state of public hospitals, it not surprising that most people want to see more money invested into the public health system. Unfortunately Kevin Rudd’s ‘National Health Reform Plan’ is not designed to provide more services but is a cover for more cuts to the sector. It will also bolster the profit driven private health system.

Anyone who has had to access health services in recent times can tell you horror stories about long waiting times and being pushed out of the hospital door as soon as possible. If you need ‘elective surgery’ expect to wait years unless you can afford to pay upfront.

Health professionals attest that understaffing is a major problem and resources are already scarce. The work that these people do in the circumstances is nothing short of amazing! Rudd would have us believe that the main problem with the health system is not systematic under-funding but rather the ‘blame game’ that is played between Federal and State Governments.

Rudd’s proposal is merely a modified way of distributing the already limited funding to healthcare. He has suggested changes whereby the Federal Government will take over 60 per cent of funding for state-run public hospitals. He plans to redirect 30 per cent of the GST revenue that currently goes to the States into a national fund thereby making the Federal Government the dominant funder of public hospitals and health services.

In order to actually provide more hospital beds, doctors and nurses, more investment is required – not just a different way of shifting around the already limited funds. The problem with Rudd’s plan is that it puts in place a system whereby hospitals will be forced to compete against each other regardless of their location or size.

Rudd wants public hospitals to be paid per procedure rather than through block funding. This system is known as ‘case mix’ and in Victoria it has meant increased pressure on health workers to discharge patients prematurely.

If a particular hospital ‘spends too much’ on caring for a patient they would have to bear the cost. This puts doctors and nurses under pressure to take short cuts and push patients out the door even more quickly.

Not only would Rudd’s plan ration patients’ access to care but if hospitals were ‘under performing’ they would be forced to close or amalgamate. Smaller and regional hospitals will be most at risk of closure. Less public hospitals would force many patients into expensive private care and be a boon for the private insurance funds.

When announcing the plan Rudd said that in order to compete, hospitals would be able to sub-contract out cases to private hospitals. These comments were welcomed by the private hospitals who are always looking for ways to increase their ‘market share’ and profits.

Ultimately Rudd’s healthcare ‘reforms’ provide no new investment and set no new targets for reducing waiting times. Far from any extra beds coming from this glorified funding shuffle, a mechanism will be put in place to pit hospitals against each other in a race to the bottom. In the long term this will mean cuts to spending on public health.

Instead of funneling money to the profiteers in the private sector, ordinary people need a properly funded and expanded public health system. If the big private hospitals, service companies, medical supply and pharmaceutical industries were brought into public ownership a plan could be put in place to pool the resources and provide good quality free healthcare to everyone.

If the health sector was democratically run by elected health workers and community representatives funding could be directed quickly and efficiently to areas of need. Unfortunately Rudd’s plan will not address any of the pressing problems in the health sector. It is nothing more than a boost to the profiteers.

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