A Cautionary Tale

Michael Katakis

Michael Katakis copyright Ralph Elliott

In February 2004 Alistair Cooke gave his last broadcast of Letter from America at the age of 95.  Those 15 minute weekly anecdotes gave a touch of reality, a sense of what was really going on in the USA, a voice that did not pander to any crede or ideology.  Since then we have been left at the mercy of the media who it seems, more and more, filter reports in favour of their backers, regulators or the ideology of the day.  Occasionally our National Radio interview someone who opens a window on an aspect of the larger world that the media in general don’t want to or can’t be bothered with showing us.  As we enter another term of National government, todays Sunday Morning interview with  Michael Katakis has done just that.  I don’t know how long that link will remain valid, however there are other interviews ( e.g. on abc) if you Google him.

I’m not saying Michael is comparable to Alistair Cooke but the candour with which he discussed his reasoning made one of the more hard-hitting interviews I have heard in a while.  Anyway the interview was about Michael’s new book “A thousand shards of glass” and why he is leaving the country of his birth.  In short he cannot afford to stay and is disillusioned with the worship for the dollar at all costs attitude of his fellow Americans.  His experience is damning of the US Private Health system and a reminder of why we (NZ) should not be going down the route of privatising the health system, something to keep in mind as we enter another term of National government determined to cut public spending (although they never cut Parliamentary Services).  Sure there are a lot of things that aren’t palatable about our health system, but for the most part if you need help, you’ll get it.  There won’t be a bean counter at the door of the Hospital saying your insurance doesn’t cover this or surprise bills (as Michael had) for the things that your ‘full’ or ‘comprehensive’ cover, actually doesn’t.  You won’t be caught between the Insurance Co. seeking to terminate your care and the health provider seeking to extend your care unnecessarily or submit you to costly tests.  Both have profit to the shareholders as their primary motive.

This is not to say that our system is ideal, far from it, it is looking rather gaunt these days as successive governments bribe high earners with tax-cuts and we head down the capitalism road where the individual is extolled over community.  The healthy don’t want to subsidise through tax the sick or the needy, yet that is what a privatised system would look like with the added burden of high-rolling corporate salaries and healthy dividends to the shareholders.  If we all had to take out insurance and Doctors fees weren’t subsidised, employers would need to add insurance costs onto employees salaries (if they wanted to retain the staff they have trained) and not just for the employee but the whole family.  Michael referred to an excess of $10,000 on a $1000/month policy and with the fees not covered added in, it was costing $27,000/yr after his wife was diagnosed with cancer.  Can you imagine the average NZ family covering that.  Having just recenty taken my mother to Grey Hospital for follow up cancer surgery where they even put me (the driver) and my father up in a motel for 2 nights, I have no complaints.

Those who have pets and are not prepared to watch them suffer, know just how much benefit the public system provides.  We recently had an ultrasound on a dog – $300; for a person on public health – free.  Sure, you have to go on a waiting list and depending on urgency it could take a couple of weeks on the public system but all things considered we get a lot of bang for our buck from the health system.  If there is a problem, my recent experiences are that it is with getting in the door, but once you’re in they’ll see you right.

Bottom line for me is that privatisation of the health system (in any form) is not the way to fix it.  Better funding to reduce waiting lists and get earlier treatment would be a better way to go  We should be working toward the Danish system rather than the U.S. system.

Kia Ora

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