By Ross Walker

I’m sure many people who read the Sunday Telegraph on January 22 of this year read that just over 2200 people in NSW died on the waiting list for elective surgery in the 2015-16 period. The report suggested that over half of these patients had been waiting more than 55 days, which is 18 days greater than the Australian average. Up to 10% of patients had to wait close to 12 months, again, greater than the Australian average.

We heard the usual outcry from the Labor opposition blaming the current health minister in New South Wales for this unacceptable situation. The New South Wales AMA President, Professor Brad Frankum, suggested it was the increasing pressure on accident and emergency departments that had a knock on effect to elective surgical waiting times.

In my view, no one is addressing the real issues which comes down to two key areas:

1) Over-population. With the world’s population increasing at a rapid rate, no government across the globe can continue to provide the necessary infrastructure for not just the health system, but all aspects of living in the modern world.

2) In Australia – the outdated and unaffordable Medicare system. It is said that 48% of Australians are on some form of welfare but the reality is that 100% of people are on welfare, i.e. Medicare.

Over $50 billion is spent every year on Medicare and this is paid for with borrowed money because of the incredible debt levels in Australia. Medicare was first introduced as Medibank in 1972 under the Whitlam government. In 1972, medicine was not particularly expensive with much less available pharmaceutical agents, medical procedures and investigations.

Over the past 40 years, we have seen an explosion in costs because of major advancements in all of these areas. The reality is that our current system is unaffordable when we expect the government to foot the bill for a significant proportion of medical costs. Don’t get me wrong, Medicare is very good for the medical profession as we have a steady income from the government, but, in my view, is not good for patients.

The system I propose is that we introduce free, non-discounted healthcare for the lower 20% of earners (including people on some form of welfare) and everyone else pays private insurance linked to their income. The 21st percent earner may only pay $2 per week, whereas extremely wealthy people clearly would be paying a substantial cost for private health insurance. I would also propose that anyone suffering a genuine emergency and admitted through an accident and emergency department would receive care for free under this system. This would not include people who use accident and emergency departments such as general practices.

This would ensure that socially disadvantaged people would not have to wait too long on elective waiting lists for surgery. Many people wait for over a year in pain to have spinal surgery or hip replacements because someone who could afford private insurance decided they would go through Medicare, thus displacing a person who can’t afford healthcare down the waiting list.

Unfortunately, the vast majority of people now living in Australia have grown up with the attitude that Medicare is their “God-given right”. However, unless we do something about our current population growth and debt levels, our children and grandchildren will be living in a completely different world where wars will be fought over food and water and expert medical care will be a thing of the past. Do we have the right to leave this type of legacy for future generations?