Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Health isn't free, you idiots

The best things in life are, in fact, free. Love. Relationships. Health. Personal growth. Contribution. Six-pack abs.

I read this status update on The Minimalists' Facebook page last week and it made me a little cross.  

I agree with most of it, but health? Health is free? What the hell!? Health is only free if you have the good fortune to be born healthy and able-bodied, and to remain so throughout your life. I wanted to reply "PLEASE CHECK YOUR PRIVILEGE!", but I refrained. 

What's particularly astounding about this assertion is that these guys live in America, where even a relatively short stint in hospital can (or could, pre-Obamacare) cause extreme financial stress or even bankrupt someone. In Australia, even with Medicare, health is most definitely NOT FREE. I went to see my GP last week and while I was waiting, I noticed a sign tacked to the reception desk advising of increased fees:

  • A standard consultation of 15 minutes is now about $90, with a Medicare rebate of around $38 (I can't remember what it was before).
  • A long consultation - which I'm assuming is 30 minutes long - is around $160, but I don't know if you get a larger rebate for it.
  • A "prolonged consultation" - anything beyond 30 minutes, I suppose - is a whopping $215!! Again, I don't know if the Medicare rebate increases commensurately. 
These are weekday fees too - they charge even more when you go on Saturdays, which is what I usually do because my GP doesn't work on my days off, dammit. I was flabbergasted. More than $200 to see a GP! That's more than I pay for a standard consultation with my neurologist!  

To be fair, it seems the clinic my GP consults at charges well above average. It's on St Kilda Road, in an affluent area, so I guess they figure they can charge more. According to research from 2014 by the Australian Medical Association, the average cost of a GP visit was only $51, with $47 paid for by Medicare, and $5 by the patient. I can't recall the last time I paid such a small amount to visit a GP. Maybe bulk billing (where the patient has no out of pocket costs) skews the patient contribution figure? 

I have thought about changing doctors - I went to a different clinic nearby recently with bronchitis when I couldn't get in to see my regular doctor and it was quite a bit cheaper - but I've been seeing my GP for years now and continuity of care is important to me (as it is for anyone with ongoing health issues). Although she's a little eccentric, she is a good, caring doctor.   

Without spending money on shoes and clothes and not including rent and food, health costs (including pilates/yoga class fees, osteopath charges, consultation fees for my GP and specialists, and medication/supplements) are my largest expense. They might have been before my ban started too, but I never kept track of my outlay on clothes etc.  

And it's not like I'm seeing my doctors weekly (or even monthly), or taking a dozen different expensive medications daily like many other people with ongoing health conditions (some cancer treatments cost THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS), so my health costs might be high as a proportion of my spending, but I'm sure they are quite low compared to what many others spend. I can imagine how these people would react if some privileged American idiot suggested to them health is free. 

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