During the 2014 Election campaign, New Zealand First announced a policy of giving Gold Card holders 3 free doctor's visits a year. We thought this was pretty sound policy, the merits of which would outright speak for themselves.
As I've blogged earlier this week, pensioners are on fixed and pretty limited incomes. Doctor's visits are expensive. There's therefore a huge disincentive for pensioners to go visit their local GP for a regular checkup - or even in cases wherein there's clearly something wrong.
That's bad. And not just for the pensioners in question. At the forefront of EVERY policymaker's political consciousness and conscience ought to be how the state can help alleviate the suffering and improve the lives of all our citizens - particularly vulnerable Kiwis like pensioners.
But there's also a cold, hard fiscal-financial reason for advocating such a policy, as well.
Early interventions don't just save lives. They save cash and hospital resources, too. If we can get to a problem at the GP-level - and treat it early - then that means the patient doesn't have to be referred on up the chain to a hospital because things have already gotten more serious.
It also leaves hospitals with more time and resources to deal with emergencies, and other patients with immediately urgent health concerns. And all thanks to a quick visit to the GP detecting the problem earlier - and starting management of it accordingly.
In other words, it's a totally common sense and widely popular policy.
And I should therefore be *entirely unsurprised* that National, Peter Dunne, and ACT have done everything in their power to prevent it from happening.
Winston Peters put forward a bill to make our policy a reality. Had it passed, it would have been a simple and effective way of looking after our old people while reducing hospital wait-times and healthcare costs to both consumers and taxpayers.
Unfortunately, despite each of the Labour Party, the Green Party and even the Maori Party coming together to support New Zealand First's bill ... it failed last night in the House. By ONE vote. A single conscience which ought to hang heavy for standing in the way of alleviating misery for tens of thousands of older New Zealanders.
And what justification did the right-wing knife-edge cossacks cite for denying the bill's passage? Cost.
Because apparently, having preventable illnesses dealt with in our hospitals costs less than having those same problems detected and treated at a far earlier stage thanks to a GP. Because the absolutely minuscule fiscal cost of giving Gold Card holders 3 free doctor's visits a year is an unjustifiable expense and the Government would MUCH rather count a mounting cost in human turmoil and misery from our elderly instead.
Because that's what Neoliberalism is all about. A stupid, short-sighted strangulation of an over-emphasis on short-term immediately apparent "costs" while ignoring utterly and completely the larger and long-term savings in both monetary and mortal (if not outright mortality) terms. And an absolute emphatic insistence upon "user pays" - even when the "users" in question might lack the funds or the fortitude to do something as simple as shelling out the cost of a doctor's visit.
Make no mistake. What we saw last night in The House was the true face of this government. One that doesn't care one iota about the actual wellbeing of some of its most vulnerable citizens when there's an imaginary "surplus" it can ride off in pursuit of.
Having said that, it wasn't just National, ACT and United Future prepared to sacrifice ease of access to medical care for the elderly to the surplus-slasher's knife come the last Election. Labour, too, announced a similar policy to NZF's (as per usual, we thank them for knowing a good idea when they see one) ... but then revoked it once again in quixotic pursuit of surplus.
In a spirit of fairness, I should therefore like to congratulate the Labour Party for recanting on their earlier policy commitments and choosing to put people before bottom lines in supporting New Zealand First on this issue.
In any case, given the Government was good enough to adopt *another* NZ First inspired policy in the form of free doctor's visits for under-13s as part of its most recent Budget ... it's plainly apparent that they already get the logic behind preventative medicine and early interdiction.
So I guess we're left asking: If they were prepared to do something to help their target support demographic of young families ... why are they not prepared to do something very similar to help *our* perceived main support demographic in the form of the elderly?
Is it because they're playing politics with the people's health?
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