After 40 years, is Medicare living up to its promise?

Medicare is 40 years old this month, and the little green card is now a ubiquitous presence in our wallets and on our phones.

It has become a point of pride for Australians – especially those of us who have ventured to the United States. But that wasn’t always the case. 

In fact, before we had universal healthcare in Australia, medical bills were the number one cause of personal bankruptcy in Australia. 

Kees Van Gool, a professor of health systems and policy at the University of Sydney, told  The Briefing how it all came together, and what still needs to be improved

The birth of Medicare was fraught. Its first iteration, Medibank, found a very controversial reception by the public when it was first introduced by Gough Whitlam – despite being commonplace in other countries at the time. 

“Universal Healthcare was something that had been sort of introduced in a lot of other countries by that state,” he explained.

“So we were a bit behind and particularly by 1984 we were very much behind a lot of the wave of universal healthcare sort of came in the post World War 2 era. You know, England went to the NHS and a lot of other European, Western European. Countries went to universal healthcare, so by 1974 we were sort of bagging behind and certainly by 1984 we were sort of lagging behind him and now I would say, you know, with the exception of the United States, basically all OCD countries have universal healthcare.” 

This month, as Medicare turns 40, people are looking at the system with new eyes.  Is this thing still fit for purpose, and does it cover what we need it to cover? 

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