JOHN MENADUE. Private Health Insurance vs dental care.

Australian health would be much improved if the $11 billion subsidy for private health insurance was abolished and part of those funds allocated to universal dental care within Medicare.  

We have strange priorities in healthcare in Australia. In part, this is due to the extravagant ways in which conservative governments try to keep propping up private health insurance.

We spend $11 billion p.a. to subsidise inefficient and unfair private health insurance, but we cannot afford $6 billion p.a. to include dental care within Medicare.

In December last year, the National Council of Social Services in NSW in its report ‘Poor Health; the cost of living in NSW’ found that:

  • Almost 40% of people earning under $75,000 p.a. cannot afford to see a dentist.
  • Of those who do see a dentist, one in five do not go ahead with the recommended treatment because it is too expensive.
  • Poor dental health not only affects a person’s overall health but also makes it harder to find a job, particularly for young people.
  • There is a huge disparity in the availability of dental services, particularly in rural and remote areas.
  • There were 107,322 adults and 13,284 children on NSW public dental waiting lists.

The Whitlam and Hawke governments established Medicare largely because of the inefficiency and unfairness of private health insurance. But with the Liberal Party pouring more and more subsidies into private health insurance, and with the acquiescence of the ALP, Medicare is being effectively privatized and dental care needs are being ignored. The taxpayer is spending $11 billion p.a. to promote the erosion and downgrading of Medicare.

Every year parasitic organizations like Medibank Private, BUPA and others ,who spend millions on look alike policies, are receiving public money to eat away at Medicare. With government encouragement they are taking us down the destructive US private health insurance path.

Australian health would be much improved if the $11 billion subsidy for private health insurance was abolished and part of those funds allocated to universal dental care within Medicare.

See my earlier article ‘Private health insurance and funding a Medicare Dental Scheme’.


John Laurence Menadue is the publisher of Pearls & Irritations. He has had a distinguished career both in the private sector and in the Public Service.

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4 Responses to JOHN MENADUE. Private Health Insurance vs dental care.

  1. Lorraine Osborn says:

    Agree on all points.
    As always there is a however.
    We struggle to keep private heath insurance as pensioners and do so because of chronic health conditions which will need surgery into the future.
    Last week I made an appointment to have my cataracts seen to and was told I would have to wait 12 months if I went public.
    As a private patient I can get fixed immediately.
    The waiting lists are the biggest impediment to people ditching private insurance.

    I’m in regional NSW so have little choice.

  2. Henry Haszler says:

    I am conservative and risk-avoiding by nature and have always had hospital/medical insurance. One really annoying and, in a technical economics sense, inefficient aspect of the current system is that that the insurance firms seem to work very hard at making sure that consumers cannot compare their offerings on price – which is exactly consistent with the oligopolistic structure of the market.

    Sure, there are various so-called selection-helping websites but they seem to restrict their comparisons of policies to those offered by only some firms – I presume firms that pay to be included in the comparisons. It is disappointing that even the Government website excludes providers in its comparisons – I know this because a search for the broad specifications of my policy does not bring up Medibank Private P/L, my insurer.

    The former Private Health Insurance Administration Council [PHIAC, under the Health Department umbrella] provided “macro” information that enabled a comparison of the performance of ALL the heath funds. But I have had trouble finding its site in the past and the information is now even harder to find given that the PHIAC’s functions have been moved to APRA.

    While on health insurance I do object to the privatisation of Medibank Private. I am not at all convinced by the arguments of neoliberals that the so-called competition in this market makes things more efficient. I have never been convinced that the private provision of government services is necessarily more efficient than provision by public servants. If we have the same sorts of people doing the jobs in the public or private sectors – after all so many redundant public servants seem to return as contractors – then the difference may come down to one of distribution. That is, assuming public provision is somehow less efficient, we can have either less efficient public servants taking longer and costing more per employee doing things, or perhaps we have private firms doing things more efficiently per person employed but then having to pay dividends to their owners. Given the agglomeration of wealth in the hands of the VERY, VERY few leading to the rising inequality in Australia and elsewhere I think I would prefer to see the cash go to public servants being payed perhaps too much rather than seeing the cash funding Porsches, the French Riviera, etc for the already well off.

    All the above is subject to argument but I doubt there can be any dispute that one thing that private provision certainly does achieve is break down accountability in our political system. And accountability is already an issue even with public provision. Remember the problems with the Census? I suspect much of that was the not the fault of ABS – which copped the blame – but of successive pollies funding their own AFL Grand Finals travels, etc rather than making sure ABS had a decent IT system.

  3. Jaquix says:

    Absolutely this should happen, though I doubt the current government will do it. They seem committed to policies which favour the well off, and do the opposite for the rest. Recent fgures released by Oxfam on the increasing inequality in Australia, show this up. There might be a case for some very low income earners who believe they need the insurance cover for chronic conditions, having a small subsidy, but on the whole I believe this subsidy is totally unfair and a waste of money. The savings would be extraordinary! Having just come back from a $628 consultation with a dentist for 2 tiny fillings, I am very aware of the high cost of dental treatment. ABOLISH THE SUBSIDY !!!

  4. Jim KABLE says:

    Agree on every point though the statistics you provide still shock me further. When my wife and I were younger we were secondary/other teachers in the state system. We were members of the Teachers Federation Health Society – it included dental cover to a certain extent. I spent nearly two decades in Japan where I paid between $6,000 and $8,000 p.a. for my Health cover (dependent on my earnings – all part-time teaching appointments – none of my employers covering my health costs) – including for my wife for the twice by three-monthly stays she had over much of my time there. We scarcely had any call on it – two skin cancer excisions, some incipient BCCs burnt off. But that’s insurance right? Back here and now – my wife (she’s the financial manager) has made it clear we cannot afford private cover – so we rely on Medicare (and the scare of the LNP about Medicare is still ever-present – as your essay underscores) and in my eight years back here – now into my latter 60s – already a couple of health scares – nipped in the bud as it were by timely and the best of Medicare covered public hospitals and doctors who bulk bill. But unable to trust the political bastards adds to our stress about what lies ahead – please keep hammering at this public funding to private profit-taking – to bring it to an end – health and education – both!

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