ZB

John MacDonald: Is Kiwisaver the remedy for health waiting lists?

Author
John MacDonald,
Publish Date
Thu, 19 May 2022, 1:09pm
Photo / File
Photo / File

John MacDonald: Is Kiwisaver the remedy for health waiting lists?

Author
John MacDonald,
Publish Date
Thu, 19 May 2022, 1:09pm

As with every Budget Day, everyone hopes the Finance Minister is going to throw something their way. 

And every Budget Day there are the so-called winners and the so-called losers. But the one constant – every Budget Day – is the Government (whether it’s Labour, National or whoever) doing the proverbial high-fives and looking very pleased with itself because its delivered 'exactly what the country needs’.  

“We couldn’t have done it better. Absolutely brilliant. Let’s head down to Bellamys to celebrate.”  

Health is always a big component of every Budget. And this year is no different. But there never, ever seems to be enough money to go around for health, does there? 

I heard Dr John Bonning on Newstalk ZB this morning. He’s a specialist in emergency medicine and he was saying that health is a bottomless pit. 

And so, it’s safe to assume, isn’t it, that the country will never have enough money for the perfect public health system? 

We’re living longer, we have higher expectations in terms of quality of life, technology is getting better – which means it’s also getting more expensive – and if we need it, we want that technology used on us to make us better. As the doctor says, health is a bottomless pit. 

That’s just physical health. Mental health funding is another bottomless pit. 

And, just like on Budget Day, there are winners and losers too when it comes to health services. And not just one day a year, but every day of the year. 

Every day of the year, people all around the country are told there is something wrong with them, it needs treating, but who knows how long it’ll take to get the treatment. In other words, join the waiting list and see ya later. 

Or, in the case of mental health services, “yes, you’re in a pretty bad way but there are others way worse than you so sorry, no room at the inn. Maybe you should try some exercise, that might help”.    

In the last couple of years here in New Zealand – and Covid will have had something to do with this – the number of people waiting longer than four months for their first appointment with a hospital specialist has doubled. And the number of people waiting longer than four months for treatment has more than trebled. This is in the public health system. 

The Government, of course, has got a taskforce on the job to sort it out but let’s not hold our breath for any major change anytime soon. And let’s remember too that waiting lists have been an issue forever – not just since Covid started causing havoc for health systems around the world. 

And I bet that, by this time next year, the likes of Dr John Bonning will still be talking about the bottomless health pit – and the health spend announced in today’s Budget still won’t have been enough and more, more, more will be needed and expected 

So, what’s the answer? Is there an answer? I think there is, and it’s not endless increases in government spending. It’s Kiwisaver. 

I think most of us know that people can dip into their Kiwisaver account to come up with a deposit for their first home. 

But I don’t think many of us know that you can do the same for health reasons. Although the rules are pretty tight and it generally comes down to severe financial hardship. 

But imagine if you could use your Kiwisaver to pay for a hip operation privately and not hang around waiting on the public waiting list. You can’t at the moment, but what if you could? 

Imagine if you could use your Kiwisaver to buy medications that aren’t publicly-funded but would do wonders for your quality of life. You can’t at the moment, but what if you could? 

Imagine if you could use your Kiwisaver to get private mental health treatment for yourself or someone in your family. Again, you can’t at the moment, but what if you could? 

I could go on, but you get the idea of what I’m talking about. 

As I say, the rules at the moment are pretty tight and from what I’ve seen on the IRD website, you can only access your Kiwisaver early for health reasons if you have an illness, injury or disability that permanently stops you working or could kill you or you have a life-shortening congenital condition that means you may not live to the age of 65. Very limiting.  

But I see no reason why it should stay this way, given the fact that there is never going to be enough money to go around all of us when it comes to health.  

And surely the best thing the Government could do would be to come up with something that gives people choice and, at the same time, reduces the number of people on the public system waiting lists.  

The trade-off for us, as individuals, would be less money in the bank in the future for retirement versus not waiting unnecessarily on a hospital waiting list.  

We’d all make these calls on a case-by-case basis. Someone close to retirement age might choose to stick it out on the waiting list and keep the Kiwisaver money in the bank. 

But someone in their early 50s who needs a hip replacement might be quite happy to give up a bit of the Kiwisaver if it meant they could get their operation sooner and get on with their life. 

Surely, having the option to choose wouldn’t be such a bad thing. I think it would be a great thing.