Tuesday, August 21, 2007
Should medical care be free?
Should medical care be free?
I haven't seen the Moore documentary 'Sicko' yet, but the subject matter is relevant to people in any country, so I ask the question - should medical care be free?
Public health is costly as it's much more than paying doctors and nurses who are the salt of the earth. On TV last night someone said that Australia spends $60 billion a year to pay for the health industry. Wow! But of course the technology in Australia is 'cutting edge'*, and extremely sophisticated. Because of the Medicare insurance scheme (not the Private Medicare) most bills are paid by the government for doctor's visits and even hospital stays because who can afford $400 a day in a hospital? An ordinary visit to a GP may be $38 but with bulk billing by some medical centres, the consultation is free. Pensioners also only pay about $4 for tablets instead of maybe $20. However if you live in an area without a public hospital as we did for six years, because there was only a Bush Nursing Hospital, we had to have private insurance cover of about $350 a year.
So what happens in Fiji? With the large public hospitals located at Suva (Colonial War Memorial) Lautoka and Labasa, patients pay very low fees. However Suva now has the Suva Private Hospital in Amy Street Toorak, with fees closer to those set in Australia, so only wealthy people or those with insurance can go there. A long, long time ago, I think I paid about $20 at Ba Methodist Hospital each time deliver a baby, and later at Labasa hospital 40 cents to deliver our third son. Now that was a gift!
These days if you go to a private doctor e.g. in Labasa when I had a kind of bronchial infection, I found an excellent doctor. The bill may have been about $5 or $10. Not sure as a young relative paid it. In Suva I went to a medical centre in Dominion Place and the charge was about $10. However, tourists may get asked for much more - e.g. an Australian woman was told $50 was the charge to see a private doctor in Nadi! The recommendation from a travel website is $20.
The cost of medical care in Fiji comes from public taxes but there are many donations and aid from overseas. Free or almost free medical care is necessary to encourage people to use hospital facilities for birth and sickness. Otherwise people will stay at home, take the pain and suffering, and go to the bush medicine experts (which is fine for minor ailments of course - certain leaves for boils, grated roots for coughs etc.)
An important aspect that I see for Fiji is to develop a very active community health program with hundreds of First Aid workshops and classes in diet, the dangers of smoking, the need for physical exercise, etc.
I was interested to read that dieticians are working with the caterers to plan the three meals a day at the Methodist Conference in Naduri. Way to go.
Wouldn't it be terrific if all youth groups throughout Fiji all had First Aid courses, and every choir member at the current Choir Competition in Suva be given a free pin prick to check diabetes and a quick blood pressure test! Pro-active health is as important as nursing sick people when they have developed a problem that should not have happened in the first place.
A website about Fiji's hospitals is here.
* cutting edge. My Mum wasn't happy one year that when her Hospital Auxiliary raised a few thousand dollars - and she always worked very hard for the country hospital - it was spent on a saw to cut bones. She was at that time ready to have a knee reconstruction!