Media interests, particularly television, give us, or most of us, exactly what we want; the gossipy, exciting, human interest side of politics that requires no thinking. So much so that we tend to forget that Parliament exists to debate and determine the principles and policies that serve the public interest.
So I was pleased and pleasantly surprised when an editorial in the Otago Daily Times raised questions about policy: “What do we want our public health system to look like? Do we want it to be world class and free? Or a safety net with no-frills care for those unable to afford health insurance?” The answer to this question may not be as predictable as we think.
Remarkably, after leaving us with a crises in housing and an equally negligent attitude to clean water, the National Party remains the most popular political party. Which makes me hesitate to dig deeper into what we really want. Can it just be us? To no avail I have tried to find out how many parliamentarians own rental property and have a private health insurance.
How many of them have shares in the dairy industry may also hint why successive governments have been reluctant to intervene in the rental market, intensive dairying, and why, with so many of the middle class exiting public health provision in favour of private health schemes, the private health industry is growing at a worrying rate.
Where public health is concerned the question has a personal dimension for many residents in rural areas. To take one issue, New Zealand is the world capital of melanoma. And the folks in my area, being 300 meters above sea level, are more at risk than anyone else. In Wanaka there is excellent provision for skin lesions removal in the community by highly competent GPs. Much better than travelling for hours to Dunedin Hospital. So it surprised me to learn of the District Health Board’s policy on this procedure:
“Patients who have medical insurance or means to self-fund are not eligible for this service.”
In other words it is means-tested. The universality principle, which applies for superannuation for instance, and which I thought was sacrosanct, no longer applies.
At a time when increased life expectancy is demanding awkward questions of our ability to afford universal superannuation, our bed-rock welfare state principles are on shaky ground. I hear that in America meteorological services have been privatised. The spectre of prioritised information on weather events being denied to the affected public and sold to insurance companies does not bear thinking about. This kind of extremism won’t get a look-in in New Zealand of course. Will it?