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federal budget: can australia afford to be sick?


The federal budget, revealed Tuesday night, held few surprises for the Australian public, but it has caused outrage and debate over many of the Coalition’s proposed policies. A large portion of this heated discussion revolves around healthcare, including the changes to Medicare and the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, cuts to health and hospital funding, and the $20 billion Medical Research Future Fund. Health is something that affects everyone, and can be enormously frightening when it goes wrong, even if you’re prepared. There’s good reason these changes in financial coverage are hitting a nerve with the Australian public.

The biggest outcry has been against the introduction of the $7 Medicare co-payment. This is essentially a tax to visit your GP, get an x-ray, or get a blood test, unless you’re sick enough to warrant a visit to the hospital. Even then, you better actually be sick enough, because if your ailment is deemed treatable by a GP, you will be charged the co-payment anyway. $7 may not seem like much to many, but to others it will be the end to their visits to the doctor. For those living payday-to-payday, having to choose between their family’s health and paying a bill may soon be a reality. While children under 16 only have to pay for 10 visits, families will have to pay up to $70 per child per year before the co-payment is waived, and for larger families this is really going to add up.

The waiving of the co-payment after 10 visits also applies to pensioners. However, there are many people with chronic illnesses and other long-term medical conditions who do not meet the criteria for a disability pension. These people will continue having to pay $7 per visit after their first 10 visits each year, which is a huge financial burden. The number of these people will likely rise with the crackdown on the criteria for disability, especially for those under 35. These people may also be the most severely affected by the rise in prices of medications covered by the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS), especially if they are also women requiring hormonal contraceptives.

The PBS does not cover all medicine, but it does cover the majority of Australians’ medications, including basic prescriptions such as antibiotics and medicine that requires administration by trained professionals such as chemotherapy. The PBS covers at least one option for all hormonal contraceptives that are on the market for women. For women who need hormonal contraception, which is used to treat many medical problems not just as birth control, the combination of the Medicare co-payment and the rise in prices of contraceptive medication introduces the possibility of not only financial problems for individuals, but also unplanned pregnancy if an individual can no longer access this medication due to raised prices.

It’s not all doom and gloom though. The proposed Medical Research Future Fund is to be funded through the Medicare co-payments. Joe Hockey has said it will be doing incredible and important medical research. Unfortunately, Australia already has research bodies such as the CSIRO doing incredible and important scientific research, including medical research, and their funding is going to be cut by $114.4 million over four years. The government also plans cut funding to hospitals and the health sector by $50 billion over eight years, so the new innovations in medicine will have nowhere to be practised in Australia in a decade’s time. So, it’s still mainly doom and gloom, but we might find the cure to cancer, which we probably should have been looking for anyway.

The outrage on social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr has been ongoing since Tuesday night without lessening. The opposition’s budget reply on Thursday night has only increased Australia’s disdain for Tony Abbott, his cabinet, and all involved in the creation of this budget. A government that cannot see the working to middle class, and does not understand the importance of $7 to the ordinary Australian does not deserve our respect or our silence.

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