I have a lot to learn about the Australian healthcare system. But I’ll tell you what I do know. As soon as we arrived, we had to register for a “Medicare” card. This card has the appearance of a credit card but doesn’t work in Kmart. I’ll tell you about Kmart another time. We registered for our card through the local Centrelink office which is run by the Australian Government.
As I said, I have a lot to learn, so I am not going to try to explain the system to you today. I’d surely get it wrong. But for sure, getting your Medicare card is the first essential and a requirement before visiting a doctor. But I will say that Australia’s healthcare does seem to be a very efficient mix of public and private treatment funded by tax deductions based on income, private health insurance and government subsidies. It appears that nobody goes without healthcare.
Since arriving 15 months ago, I have only (thankfully) had reason to go to the doctors once.
That visit was surprisingly pleasant. No, I didn’t walk straight into the doctors’ at my allotted time, there was still the obligatory one hour wait in reception. Whether that will be the case every time remains to be seen.
But when I got in to see the doctor, well, that was totally different. We exchanged polite pleasant chat for a good five minutes before he asked me what the problem was. Well, my problem was my left elbow had dramatically changed shape and turned purple. I had already consulted with Dr Google, as you do, before my visit. Search for: tender swollen purple elbow – the diagnosis was unanimous. So I confidently told him it was bursitis.
He didn’t think so, he felt the swelling would have been concentrated only around the elbow. “It was until I bandaged it up, that’s when it spread down my arm” I told him. So he agreed with bursitis and then he said, in a typical Australian drawl, “Yeah mate, that can be a real bastard to get rid of”.
I had 27 years with the same doctor in England and never once did I hear him use any language that came close to a swear word. But over here, it’s just how blokes talk to blokes. It’s kind of endearing. Not offensive at all. And the chat continued after the diagnosis. I had a long explanation of the condition, how it is caused, and the choices of treatments, how best to approach my treatment and under what circumstances I should return to see him.
I was even given an optional repeat script (prescription to us, too long a word for Australia see: registration = rego, fish and chip shop = chipo and afternoon = arvo etc) in case it didn’t clear up after the first lot of pills. So, there you have it, my first visit to the docs. I think I was in there for 20 minutes. In England I just know that would have been 5 minutes. “Hello, what’s wrong? Looks like bursitis. Take these. Next!” I’m not blaming English doctors, they are overworked. Hopefully that’s not the case here.
I did try to visit a second time. It was December 15th last year. I called and the receptionist answered. I asked to make an appointment. “Sorry, we’re having a bit of a refurb, so the doctor decided to take a holiday. He’ll be back in the New Year. Thank you”.
No covering doctor? No alternative offered? Was this weird? Apparently not. All I had to do was phone another doctor and turn up with my Medicare card. Now that is different.
If any of you have seen the controversial documentary film “Sicko” by Michael Moore, you will have seen the major concerns he has about the US health system and the insurance companies behind it. If it’s true, and I don’t live in the States, so who knows, it’s frightening.
It opens with a brief account of a guy who chopped the tips of two fingers off in a circular saw accident and couldn’t afford the $72,000 for the repair of both. So he just got one fixed. He didn’t have insurance. Worse were the stories of people who were insured but were constantly being denied treatment by the insurance companies’ small print.
Here, a friend of mine had a fight with his circular saw. He lost. Came out of it with some serious damage to his left hand. He was insured and his insurers paid out, no problem. The insurance companies usually cover 70% of the cost. (The other 30% is down to the patient but, depending on their salary and status, may be refundable from Medicare.) He was treated immediately in a private hospital and followed up by a private hand specialist and private physiotherapy. He has made a remarkable recovery.
What would have happened if he hadn’t been insured? He’d have still got the emergency treatment, but in a state hospital. He would have still seen a hand specialist and a physio, but would have had to wait a bit longer for that. But he would have been sorted.
Like I said, the Australian health system seems to be a very efficient mix of public and private treatment. So that is comforting.
In my next exciting adventure, I may go in search of a dentist.