Just when
we thought that Howard had no fourth term agenda, there are rumours
this morning that the Government is about to “reform” Medicare, with a source in
the advertising industry claiming “the biggest campaign [in the next year] will
be the health overhaul – the revamp of Medicare, it will rival the GST
campaign.”

How could
we have forgotten that as Treasurer in the Fraser Government, John Howard helped
make changes that effectively dismantled Medibank as a universal health scheme?

Or that
during his years in the wilderness, he used the opportunity of his 1987 budget
reply to suggest: “The Government should have taken a knife to the expensive,
failed Medicare system. Medicare has added between $3 billion and $4 billion to
budget spending … Medicare is one of the great failures of the Hawke
government.”

He may
have tried to reassure us since that he’s now Medicare’s biggest fan, but as the
Dutch say, “the fox never loses his hare”…

Howard
promised in December 1986 that, in his new Coalition family policy,
“bulk-billing under Medicare would go, except for those classified as
disadvantaged, and there would be the option of belonging either to [the
revamped] Medicare or to a private health fund.”

Much of
Howard’s outstanding agenda was pushed through the Senate before Christmas – but
he still has a Medicare axe to grind, or to wield.

The
PM has been reducing Medicare by stealth over the past decade. We’ll wait and
see just how much universal health care remains after he pushes through this
final agenda item – if he still has the numbers in the
Senate.

Peter Fray

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