I am sure you are familiar with statements like these: “Government- sponsored health insurance is nothing but a socialist takeover. The freedom of citizens is at stake.” “It promises nothing but higher taxes and lower standards.”
Aussies shake their heads when they hear the negative rhetoric around universal health care in the United States. It is obvious to us that our health care system, Medicare, works well, protects all Australians, and has not endangered our liberty. But the quotes above are not from the Obamacare furor. They are taken from Australian public debate in the early 1970s when the Australian government first proposed Medibank — which became today’s Medicare.
Feeling was so strong that “Freedom funds” were established by the Australian Medial Association. Doctors’ clinics were used as campaign centers to display posters and distribute leaflets and car bumper stickers to patients in an effort to turn them against Medibank.
The General Practitioners Society distributed a letter that read, in part: “The control of our country has fallen into the hands of socialists ... The fight that the GPS is spearheading is basically a fight for freedom — not just freedom for doctors — but freedom for you, for your children and for all people in the country.”
As an Australian I find this quaint and laughable now. An overwhelming percentage of Australians are happy with the system — including doctors. It is not perfect and tweaks have been and will continue to be made, but everyone now takes it as a staple of Australian life. Medicare provides free hospital services for public patients in public hospitals, subsidizes private patients for hospital services and provides benefits for consultations with GPs or specialists at an average of 80 percent of the fee. Australians pay a Medicare levy, which is currently set at 1.5 percent of taxable income.
When I was a young child, however, there was no Medibank or Medicare. My family could not afford medical care except in case of dire need. A visit to the doctor was debated long and hard, and my father tried to “treat” us as well as he could. A deep and long gash on my arm from a broken bottle? Not stiches, but Elastoplast to hold the edges together. Result: a permanent wide scar. That scar is completely unimportant, but the damage to my ankle from an accident at the age of 6 that was not treated as it should have been may now necessitate an operation to fuse it.
That was the worst that happened to me before we were able to go to the doctor when we needed to. Now no Australian has to fear the cost of illness. The American atrocity of families being bankrupted because of serious illness is unimaginable to us. And we did not become communists. Or even socialists!
My blog about life in America is at nayanoinamerica.wordpress.com.
Dr. Nayano Taylor-Neumann Cumberland