Dan Harrison -Feb 1, 2014
John Deeble: Said health costs would become ''unmanageable'' without change.
One of the architects of Medicare has called for an increase in the Medicare levy, warning that Australians will not accept any change that restricts access to healthcare to those who can pay for it.
John Deeble, who in 1968 co-authored proposals that formed the basis of the Whitlam government's Medibank and the Hawke government's Medicare, dismissed as a "furphy" suggestions by Health Minister Peter Dutton that Medicare risked becoming unaffordable.
In an interview with Fairfax Media to mark the 30th anniversary of the establishment of the scheme, Professor Deeble said: "In a rich country, in an advanced society, anything is sustainable if the society says it is."
Mr Dutton said last month that health costs would become "unmanageable" without change, and this week he said figures showing an escalation in health spending per person underlined the need to cut "waste".
The Abbott government's Commission of Audit is considering a proposal for the introduction of a $6 fee to see a doctor. It has also signalled its willingness to consider allowing private health insurers to pay for GP visits, changes that consumer advocates warn would increase inequality.
But Professor Deeble said Australians would not accept any move to restrict access to "life-preserving services".
"You can't just say you can have it if you can pay for it," he said.
He suggested raising the Medicare levy to 2.75 per cent to help meet growing health costs, saying such a change would raise more
revenue every year than would be yielded once through the sale of Medibank Private.
"I know many, many people who would be quite happy to pay that for a well-funded system," he said.
Professor Deeble said he was disappointed that the Gillard government last year raised the Medicare levy to help fund the National Disability Insurance Scheme, saying it made it more difficult to raise the levy to support the health system.
Neal Blewett, who was health minister when Medicare was introduced, said the Abbott government would pay heavily if it undermined Medicare.
"The Liberals never managed to win an election in the 1980s and 1990s until they committed themselves to Medicare," he said. "[They] need to remember that; that there's a very strong commitment in the community to Medicare."
Labor's health spokeswoman, Catherine King, said at about 9 per cent of economic output, Australia spent less of its income on health than the US and New Zealand, and she accused Mr Dutton of "softening up" the public for cuts.
Greens health spokesman Richard Di Natale said Medicare did not need the kind of "radical surgery" the Coalition was contemplating.
"Peter Dutton is like the surgeon who comes out after the operation and says. 'Unfortunately the patient died, but it was a terrific surgery."'
Mr Dutton said: "The Coalition is the greatest friend Medicare ever had, and with millions of Australians facing the challenges of obesity, diabetes and dementia into the next generation, our task now is to make sure we strengthen and improve our health system into the future."