Insurers say Medicare has served Australia well but it’s time for a mid-life health check

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Private Healthcare Australia has called for a mid-life health check of Medicare on the fortieth anniversary of its introduction.

CEO Dr Rachel David said a successful universal health scheme requires a strong and vibrant private scheme to increase funding for healthcare, promote equity, provide choice and ensure that the most vulnerable Australians can access care.

She said private health insurance was intentionally included in the design of Medicare.

Former Health Minister Dr Neal Blewett told Parliament in 1984 that “there will be substantial opportunities for the private funds to supplement the public fund with forms of hospital cover and to provide a wide range of ancillary covers.”

Prime Minister Bob Hawke later endorsed the private system as a “fundamental and essential part of our health care system”.

Almost 15 million Australians have private health insurance. Private hospitals perform 60 per cent of elective surgery and 55 per cent of mental health hospital admissions in Australia.

“It is this balance between public and private that has contributed to the success of Medicare. In contrast, the United Kingdom (mostly publicly funded) and United States (mostly privately funded) are at extreme ends of the spectrum and both plagued by ongoing healthcare crises.”

When Medicare was introduced, the population’s combined life expectancy was 75. In 2024, it is 84.

“The combination of an ageing population, rise in chronic disease, medical workforce challenges, cost of medicines and medical devices, and skyrocketing health inflation has put pressure on our health system. 

“The Albanese Government should be applauded for introducing measures to modernise Medicare, including urgent care centres, the tripling of the bulk-billing incentive to encourage more free GP services, and the 60-day dispensing rule to reduce the cost of medicines. 

“But with health expenditure rising unsustainably and cost of living hitting hard, more needs to be done to reduce unnecessary costs and keep our health sustainable," added Dr David.