Taking advantage of the summer media hiatus is a well-worn PR trick long used for dodgy surveys and fringe policy positions. While experienced journalists and producers are off on holidays, all sorts of thinly disguised agendas end up as news.
This week, it’s the turn of those that have been pushing the line that health costs are going to swallow up the entire budget by the year whatever because too many people are having ‘unnecessary’ GP visits.
Add in a conveniently articulate talking head, available to fill some of the hours of content on 24 hour television news, or radio, and bingo – national ‘debate’ ensues. Cue earnest opinion pieces about how this will hurt struggling families with cost-of-living expenses, cautionary tales from the well-oiled AMA media machine and arguments about whether $5 buys a schooner or a sandwich.
The Government says nothing and the Opposition fills the outrage void with platitudes about broken election promises.
And all of this from a piece of ideological rubbish that relies on evidence-free assumptions, swallowed up as though it is doctrine.
I’m no expert on health funding, or on ways to make the system fairer or more affordable. Lucky for me, though, there are plenty of people who actually are. People who have spent their lives thinking about these issues and coming up with evidence-based policy that could actually be helpful. But none of that matters anymore, it seems. The basic tools of political policy discussion have vanished into the fog of a confected budget crisis.
Throwing this kind of policy grenade at this time of year is an old political trick; testing the public mood within the summer lethargy. Watching the usual suspects flap around in disagreement, and any substantive debate about health funding slips further out of reach.
The quaintly old-fashioned process of green and white papers, committee enquiries, public consultation seems now from another era. Now, just get your local friendly think-tank or consultant to whip up a report that conforms to a particular belief system, run the predictable outrage gauntlet and, depending on the political fall out, either reject or accept the premise.
Picking bulk-billing as a target fits neatly into the increasingly normalised individual frame. Here, everyone is an autonomous unit, separate from any outside forces and completely responsible for everything that happens to them. Vast amounts of research and evidence can be completely ignored within this frame – dismissed as ‘nanny state’ or even as verging on communist.
The interlinking parts of the health system, both state and federal, and the corresponding social determinants of health data don’t exist here. Here, issues like poverty, housing and transport, let alone basic access to medical care outside cities don’t need to be discussed, because the issue has become making sure that the people having all those unnecessary trips to the doctor wake up to their impact on the budget.
“Devout determinists warn that good health is not a simple matter of changing lifestyle. No, life has to be made better in all regards – a marriage, a house, a job, an education, and better transport. What prescription does the GP write? How does the health industry add one iota of useful knowledge about family stability, or the housing market, or the labour market, or schooling?” [From here.]
Arguments about our common wealth seem frankly archaic within this narrow view of the world of individualised consumers. The idea that governments exist, in part, as a buffer against the brutality of an unregulated market appear from a bygone era.
Who benefits from this idea of society? Who reaps the most reward from dismantling universal services? Those already buffered by wealth and luck, certainly not the rest of us.