Monday, February 11, 2008

Political Bureaucracy and Cochlear Implants in New Zealand

Private Health Insurance companies in New Zealand do not cover Cochlear Implants. Ever. They will cover the surgical procedure, but not the device itself. But in New Zealand, even if you have private health insurance, it doesn’t pay to use them even for the surgical procedure when it comes to Cochlear Implants. It’s all because of political bureaucracy.

We in New Zealand have always had a pretty good free healthcare system. It’s not the best, but it works, particularly if you have a need for emergency care. It’s not so good if you need something like a hip replacement, then you might have to wait. We all know that waiting around in pain isn’t the most wonderful thing. That’s when it’s good to have health insurance. The government has this system that if you have been on the waiting list for longer than six months, then you get sent back to your GP. I’m not sure what happens then – do you end up having to referred all over again, and then go on the waiting list for another six months? I just don’t trust that part of the healthcare system.

This free public healthcare includes Cochlear Implants. However, there is a waiting list, and it’s a lot longer than six months. No use being sent back to your GP in this case as they can’t do anything! The number of Cochlear Implants operations are capped – the government will only fund so many per year. It’s never enough to cover everyone! It also means that on this system, no one will get bilateral implants, unless you pay for the second one yourself. A number of people have gone this way, but not a lot of people can afford them. The provider is the same, so they have one ear where everything is free – mappings, tests, upgrades etc.., but when the other ear is needing mapping – they have to pay. Crazy. We’re the only OECD country in the world where bilateral implants aren’t done as a matter of course.

Now that I’ve decided to be reimplanted, I’m now caught up right in the middle of this crazy bureaucracy, generated by our socialistic Labour Government. I’ve already been on the public system for 15 years with my current implant, which is now not working properly. 15 years I’ve not paid a thing, except for batteries, and the odd replacement wire. Repairs have been done under warranty, and I’ve also had free upgrades to new processors every five years. All under the public free healthcare system.

I now need a new implant to replace the one not working. Priority is given to existing patients, so once again funding isn’t really an issue – a new one will be funded under the public healthcare system. But – and there’s a big but, I have the opportunity to save the country $40,000. Yep - $40,000. First, I have full cover under my Southern Cross Healthcare Insurance. The CI operation amounts to somewhere in the vicinity of $10,000. Then, because I’ve been doing volunteer work in New Zealand for Cochlear Corp as part of the Cochlear Awareness Network, Cochlear have offered to replace my implant free of charge, even though it’s out of its warranty period. That’s $22,000 AUD – about $30,000 New Zealand dollars. Further, by doing this, I will not be taking an implant or operation away from someone else already on the waiting list.

However, at present, under the current rules and regulations of our government, I cannot accept the replacement implant, nor can I use my health insurance to have the operation. The reason? Because if I do, then I am deemed to be a private patient, and have to pay for all audiological costs, including upgrades, myself for the next 100 years. My income is simply not high enough to be able to afford that. So – why would I?

Crazy, Insane, Madness, Stupid, and Idiotic are words that immediately spring to mind.

The government's reckoning is that if they allowed a mixture of private/public funding, then some people may skip the queue before others that don’t have private healthcare. I think that’s a very silly way of looking at it. If the government allowed a mixture of public/private funding, then there’ll be more public funding for Cochlear Implants to go around those on the waiting list. It shouldn’t stop at Cochlear Implants either – it should be looked at in every area of medicine.

I’m already at the top of the queue – no queue jumping at all – so in my case the Government is not making any sense.

I have an appointment this week with my MP for the National Party this week. He’s going to bring it up in parliament and try and get some action for me as quickly as posssible. In the great scheme of things when running a country, $40,000 is probably not a lot of money, but it’s a huge amount when it comes to one operation, and it can make such a difference to one person’s life.

Watch this space…...

1 comment:

Abbie said...

Oh brother! I just had a comment left on one of my post from a girl that lives in Australia and she is on a four year waiting list! FOUR YEARS?! That is just crazy talk.

I have you in my thoughts while we are waiting for the surgery if manage to break through this political cobweb you got over there.