Friday, 27 February 2009

Diary: The Health System

DIARY: A short while ago, I had decided to apply for sickness benefits at Centrelink whilst I sort out some medical issues. This is because I wouldn’t be able to work for a few months and a regular income is essential. Sounds easy doesn’t it.

I have previously been on unemployment benefits for a few short periods and the only long period was when I was 17 and living away from home. The last time was about 8 years ago and after a few months I found a full time job which was a relief because Centrelink is HELL! I vowed never to return.

I thought the sickness allowance would be different though but there was a new problem ... my doctor! I like my doctor but his administration skills are poorly lacking. Problems usually involve his holidays where it is impossible to contact him or he doesn’t think through the needs of his patients.

Last time he went on holidays, he told me that another doctor would see me whilst he was away. When I turned up, the doctor knew nothing about it. Asking the doctor to ring the health department to authorise a permit for a month’s supply of morphine to a heroin addict was problematic enough but my 6 monthly authority had ran out as well. It finally was approved but it took an hour and the doctor was not happy. In a busy clinic, an hour for one patient means the other patients had to wait that extra time as well. As you can imagine, there were a few complaints.

 So now my doctor was going away again so I explained to him what happened last time. He said he had a better idea and told me to pick up a script in 3 weeks time which he would leave at reception for me. I did as I was told and went to the chemist as usual with the script he had pre-written. Easy. Then it all started again.

To avoid having to apply for a 30 day permit, my doctor had written 3 separate scripts for a lesser quantity to get me by until he returned in 13 days. The pharmacist (who I deal with every week) said the scripts didn’t say weekly pick up so I had to come in every day and pick up one days worth of medication at a time. He told me he knew what the doctor meant and it had always been a weekly pick up but there was nothing he could do. He suggested I ring the doctor’s clinic and get a letter authorising me to pick up weekly and until then I had to come in every day. I paid and left very unhappy.

Luckily the next day, another pharmacist told me that because we had been doing a weekly pick up for so long that he would use his discretion and allow me weekly pick ups. I asked why my regular pharmacist didn’t do the same and I was told that my regular pharmacist wasn’t sure because he wasn’t used to dealing with me. What could I say? He had ONLY been my regular pharmacist for 4 months.

But the worse was yet to come. I then had to pay for another 2 scripts as well. WTF?! So what was normally about $33 per month had to be paid 3 times ... for 13 days supply. Then when I next saw my doctor, I had to pay for another script. In total, I had to pay for 4 scripts for the month, 4 x $33. BTW, When I asked my doctor why the hell he wrote 3 separate scripts and thus 3 separate payments as well as the new script, he just shrugged and said, “oh well”.

 Back to sickness benefits. I had to resupply another medical certificate to replace an older certificate my doctor gave me, which had expired on Feb 10. I went to the doctor and he wrote another certificate. I then went to Centrelink a few days later and there were 60 people in the queue at 4.00pm. I was not going to be seen that day so I came back the next morning. After waiting 45 minutes in the queue I finally was attended to. After 15 minutes of phone calls and talking to other Centrelink employees, the person serving me said that my doctor had not filled out the dates properly so I would need to go back to him, get another medical certificate and return to Centrelink.

Oh dear god! I remembered why I vowed never to rely on Centrelink for income. Maybe I should have vowed never to return to my doctor?

Centrelink was surprisingly good without too many mistakes. It did take 3 months to get the right ID and forms filled out and they forgot to photocopy the back of some document. I wasn’t desperate for cash so it wasn’t too much of a worry. The problem is that I had to go to Centrelink 6 times so far and waiting in a queue for at least 30 minutes each visit. The other complaint is being told different things by different people. All this for $250 a week and a healthcare card. I suppose the healthcare card saves a bit considering all the medication I am on. Over all, I was happy with Centrelink. My real complaint is aimed at my doctor and the chemist. I have written about them before and I think somehow I will write about them again.

When you step back and compare the system I am complaining about to the US health and welfare system, I should count myself lucky. If I had been in the US, I would be homeless and a desperate junkie. Because of my drug history, I would be unemployable and not eligible for welfare housing. I would receive no income support and have to rely on charities for food. My SROM treatment would never had happened and I would not be able to afford methadone. A bleak picture indeed. The US mindset of avoiding “socialised medicine” at any cost is just unworkable ideology from the conservative elite. Leaving health to the business sector, insurance companies and big pharma has not worked out well for the US. For all the faults of our system, the main perpetrators that affected me were private businesses. The Medicare levy now seems like a very small price to pay.


Anonymous said...

Im always having problems with Centre Link after 2 years of being on my pension. I always get letters that they have made a mistake so I have to go again to centrelink just to get their errors corrected. I do nothing wrong but every couple of months it's something else and I have to go to wait in a line for hours to fix their mistakes. Everybody knows what the problem is but we cant say it because its not P.C. I dont see the point of employing staff who cant speak English properly and I have to fix their mistakes.

Anonymous said...

you people are the reason why Abbott is in power.