Monday, July 27, 2009

Medicine down under

Australia has national health insurance (called "Medicare," but unlike US Medicare, it's for everybody, not just old folks).

Australia also has private healthcare and insurance; if you don't like the service you get from Medicare, and you've got the cash, then you can pay for treatment or private insurance. That's different from Canada, where doctors aren't allowed to accept payment from anybody besides the government.

How well does the Australian system work?

Well, if you believe the newspapers, not terribly well. I picked up a copy of "The Australian" newspaper today-- it's the equivalent of the New York Times down here. Headline on the front page: "After five visits to the hospital, family asks why did our little girl have to die?"

It's a heartbreaking story of a four-year-old girl who died in a tiny little town in North Australia. But maybe that was an unpreventable tragedy that even the most perfect health care system wouldn't have prevented.

Page 2 story: "Billions 'wasted' in health system"
If you've been listening to the debate over healthcare in America, then this will sound very familiar:
The commission... will warn that healthcare services, already under strain, will be swamped by the rising tide of chronic illness, an ageing population and costly new health technologies. ... The current system is "unlikely to be sustainable without reform"...

And on Page 4, on the same page as the continuation of the front-page, dead 4-year-old story: "Medicare system failing indigenous"
It the data-driven version of the "pulls at your heartstrings" front-page story: "In 2008-2009, less than $8 million out of a total Medicare budget of $14.3 billion went towards rebates specifically for indigenous people, who have shorter life spans and almost three times the infant mortality rate of other Australians."

Sigh. It's nice to think that if America just had "Medicare for All," it would correct longstanding social injustices, improve health outcomes for our minority populations, save us money, and prevent oodles of tragic deaths.

But politics, even honest, no-bribery-or-scandal politics, is a market. The rich, privileged majorities who elect the politicians have the most influence on policy, so guess who ends up getting the most from just about any political deal? If healthcare reform happens in America, the people most likely to benefit are people like you and me-- relatively well-off, well-educated people who don't really need any more government handouts (I still feel a little dirty over the 4.5% interest rate I got on my mortgage refinance a couple of months ago; thank you, I guess, Federal Reserve).

Which brings me to this Page 3 story: "Beautiful lure for tourists packages cosmetic surgery, IVF"
Cairns, the tourism hub of tropical north Queensland, is reinventing itself as the cosmetic surgery and IVF (in-vitro fertilization) mecca of Australia-- targeting US defence personell in Guam.
I can see the ads now: Cairns: not just Bikinis any more, now with affordable Babies and Boob Jobs!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

South Mission Beach

We're living in South Mission Beach, Australia for the next five months, and Michele and I and the kids will be writing about our experiences on our "Cassowary Tales" blog. I'll still be posting about non-Australia-related stuff here.

South Mission Beach is a little town on the tropical northeast coast of Australia, between Townsville and Cairns. And, marvel of marvels, they've got town-wide high-speed wireless internet. I believe the Australian government has been subsidizing the infrastructure, but the service isn't free-- $150 Australian dollars (AUD) for the USB modem doo-hickey, and then $100 AUD buys 6 gigabytes of data transfer. Even in South Mission Beach there are two wireless providers, competing against each other to keep prices low and service high. So far, at least, it seems to be working.

The US Stimulus contains billions of dollars for high-speed Internet. If we get a system like they have here in Australia, I won't complain.
Update 27 July: I'm not as happy with wireless internet as I was a week ago; it's kinda flaky. It would be more than fine if we were light Internet users; it's great for email and occasional web surfing, but it's not super reliable. So we're getting wired with DSL this week (which'll end up costing something like $3 per day).