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According to a recent report, the private healthcare system’s death knell has been rung by the low participation of young people. Good. Why would we sign up? I, for one, welcome its demise.

The year I turned 30 I received two letters from the government: a robodebt and another letter stating that I had until July 1, following my 31st birthday, to buy private health insurance in order to secure lower premiums for life.

The punishment if I did not conform? A 2% increase on the cost of taking out private health insurance for every year I failed to do so. If I wait until I’m 65 to succumb to private health insurance, I will pay an extra 70%.

I threw the letter in the bin. Alleviation of suffering should be a fundamental human right for everyone, not just the rich, and the continuation of private healthcare undermines access for the most vulnerable.

Lawful extortion

As we saw with the Department of Human Service’s robodebt program, the government’s unsustainable support of private enterprise is being bolstered by exploiting legal loopholes in order to engage in lawful extortion. If such actions weren’t enshrined in government policy, you’d be forgiven for mistaking them for a mafia protection racket.

The recession of insidious private growth is good news for the poor if policymakers choose to level up Medicare to free universal healthcare for everyone. The privatisation of sickness is a social and economic ailment in itself. The Howard government introduced the immoral, but potentially unsurprising, measure in 2000. The punitive policy was an attempt to attract young people to private healthcare. After almost 20 years, it is fair to say that Howard’s policy has completely failed.

The industry’s “death spiral” is a symptom of larger problems too; stagnant wage growth, rampant casualisation of jobs, and the soaring cost of living are a few examples. Evidence in the flailing economy points to the exponential decay of the free market.

The half-life of 70 years of neoliberalism is close to diminished. It peaked before the first millennials entered the workforce. Today we see a desperate recuperation of capital across the board — be it robodebt, plummeting interest rates, or rushed tax cuts — all signalling the imminent relinquishment of a perverse economics that is malfunctioning. Too much, too late. And young people are (literally and figuratively) not buying it.

Bring on free universal healthcare

Of course, the unabating politics of alienation employed by the government extends beyond generational lines. The state’s punitive coercion of poor and working class citizens to piss away their incomes on private health insurance that is of no measurable benefit to them is deliberately classist by design.

I don’t feel sorry for the collapse of the private health industry when we could have free universal healthcare tomorrow.

Australia can afford free universal healthcare, but successive governments have opted for a hybrid model. While the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) is imperfect, there is more value to be added to Medicare by appropriating something from the NHS’ delivery of free healthcare than there is in, say, lifting tricks from the aforementioned playbook for subsidy-slinging wannabe neoliberal gangsters.

A friend of mine is a British administration worker who has directly benefited from the NHS. She was admitted to emergency after a suicide attempt, at a time when she was barely making minimum wage, and says she “could’ve died” without the NHS. “I saw a psychiatrist for therapy sessions once a week for 18 months at no cost. There’s no way I could’ve afforded this otherwise and therapy has had a hugely positive impact on my life since then.”

Currently, neither Medicare nor Basic or Bronze plans offered by private health insurance providers (about $1000 per year) fully cover psychiatric or psychological therapy. Even if you cough up for a Gold plan you “are likely to face substantial out-of-pocket expenses” for hospital psychiatric services.

Like all neoliberal structures permeating the late stages of capitalism, the privatisation of healthcare has a glass ceiling. Taxpayers can’t prop up private enterprise forever and they shouldn’t have to; whether it be private healthcare, private schools, or franking credits. After almost 20 years of bad policy it would seem that ceiling is starting to crack.

Here’s hoping for free and accessible healthcare for those aged over 30, when it inevitably rains glass.

We’d love to hear about your experiences with the private healthcare system. Email [email protected]. Please include your full name. 

Peter Fray

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