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J Health Hum Serv Adm. 1998 Spring;20(4):442-67.

The Australian health system: continuity and change.

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University of Wollongong, New South Wales, Australia.


The health of Australians, with the exception of Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders, compares favourably with other industrialised nations. Since 1984, universal access for citizens to medical and public hospital services has been achieved under a national Health Insurance Scheme called Medicare, partially funded by a 1.4 percent levy on all taxpayers. Medicare found early widespread support from the electorate but continues to be buffeted by a minority coalition of some medical associations, private health insurers, and conservative "libertarian" politicians. Over the decade since its inception, Medicare has provided stability in maintaining total health costs around 8 percent of GDP. This has been largely due to capping hospital costs via Commonwealth-State agreements. Medicare has failed in the past five years to contain medical costs which have increased proportionally with increases in the medical workforce. This article examines the structure and performance of Medicare and its role within Australia's overall health system. Benefits of a universal access insurance program are outlined together with challenges associated with inequities in health status, geography, aging of the population, burgeoning technology, ideological diversity, and an economic climate requiring cost containment and favouring privatisation and the role of the market. It can be concluded that, despite these challenges, universal access to health care is here to stay. Australia's Medicare program has become popular with the electorate.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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