Budget: Copd patients to cough up

The Australian Treasurer Joe Hockey, right,  and the Australian Finance Minister Mathias Cormann share a cigar two days before they deliver a budget tough on us chronically ill ex-smokers. Priceless!

The Australian Treasurer Joe Hockey, right, and the Australian Finance Minister Mathias Cormann share a cigar before they deliver a budget tough on us chronically ill ex-smokers. Priceless!

In the masculine, smoked-filled newsrooms, in which I was a teenage cadet reporter in the 1970s, the Budget headline, year in and year out, was: ‘Beer, Cigs Up’.

When the paper was ‘put to bed’ we’d have a drink and a smoke in the tavern. ‘We should give up, anyway,’ we’d tell ourselves, scowling at our costly 40 cents a pack habit.  But we soon cheered up, put a coin in the Wurlitzer and ordered another round, for indeed, ‘Those were the days my friend, we thought they’d never end . . . for we were young, and sure to have our way.’

I feel really old when I remember how once-upon-a-time newspapers were made out of molten metal and our old red-brick Country Press building housed a derelict loft for the pigeons who carried the news. We laughed about it, never dreaming we would one day be as quaint as quills ourselves. Who remembers a linotype clattering away? Soon, who will even remember a newspaper?

One of my jobs as a junior-burger reporter was, on a weekly  basis, to take the chain-smoking sportswriter’s  hefty olive green Imperial typewriter out the back and, at arm’s length, blast the ash out of the clogged keys with the vacuum cleaner on blow.

From that veteran newshound Stu Wilson, I learned the ropes of reporting and the rules of grammar, such as, a collective noun always takes a singular verb—not anymore it doesn’t, Stu. The Barbarians are at the gate, mate. LOL. I mastered skepticism,  shorthand, two-fisted drinking and, importantly, how to two-finger type and smoke at the same time.

Fast forward 40 years and the Australian Treasurer asks us to ‘do the heavy lifting’ as he puts it. Don’t know about you, but I can’t lift more than an eyebrow on a bad air day. Yet is it us, the chronically ill, who have been chosen for a very special mission.

Those of us with Copd—the frequent flyers—with at least a dozen trips to the doctor’s a year, will, from July 1 next year pay more for scripts, tests, x-rays, scans, and for visits to specialists and the GP,  in order to contribute money to medical research that might save the lives of future sufferers of Copd—who mostly get sick from smoking cigarettes, which the self-same government licences and taxes in the first place. Hello! Anybody home?

Do we need a fancy $20 billion Medical Research Future Fund to tell us how to cure Copd? We already know how to stop Copd in its tracks. As Leonard Cohen sings, ‘Everybody Knows’.

Our household will manage. There will be economies, but the Black Tuesday budget has me worried about the welfare of a lot of good people I know. And what happens to our community, happens to me.

I live in a region of 25% youth unemployment, with big pockets of working poor and retirees. It is a lovely Kingdom, the Shoalhaven, thickly forested and with  idyllic beaches, but at its worst, it can be misery with sea views.

Our kind GP, near to retirement age herself, and often overworked, will hate having to collect the government’s new doctor tax. And if she doesn’t charge a hard-up patient for a visit, she will lose her Medicare consultation fee.

Will the 13th of May 2014 be the date Australia ended the grand social experiment of free universal healthcare? Medicare. It was our boast as we looked with pity at our American cousins whom, we were told, had to sell their homes if they got really sick. We were the lucky country. The land of the fair-go.

I can see with chilling clarity what will happen here, in my neck of the woods, and it’s not going to be the Australia I know and love—a place that was quick to put out its hand to help someone less fortunate.

I’m sad we are asking our kids to pay more for Uni, that’ll stop many going and education is always the way out of poverty.

Lots of kids who can’t get the dole for six months will turn to crime. Suicides will increase. There will be more homeless and more  addicts on the streets. This will change the character of our neighbourhoods and justifiably raise people’s fear of being robbed or attacked.

As the squeeze tightens on the families of the working poor, a young mum trying to find the money to visit the doctor and pay for medicines when all the kids are sick at once, mightn’t get around to checking out that lump in her breast. She tells herself she’ll do it next month, when there’s a bit left over. And they might have to let the family pets go, too.

People like us, often middle-aged, who are breathless on the stairs and have a persistent cough might put off asking the doctor about it. ‘It’s probably the cold weather’. ‘I should lose some weight’, ‘I should eat better’, ‘I should exercise more’; all the excuses and rationalisations that stop people like us getting our lungs checked out. Copd or lung cancer, an early diagnosis, education and support gives us the best chance.

Those of us on a disability pension are already stretched. Copd soon erodes savings and, along with our airways, prospects narrow at a time of life we would have expected to still to be earning.

By the time most of us are told we have Copd, we already have severe disease. And over several pulmonary rehabs, I’ve met a lot of sick people who haven’t any money to spare between pension cheques. They will be made anxious by these changes.

As in real-life, it might be more important than ever before for us online communities to be there for each other, as those of us living with lung disease like Copd, and other chronic illnesses, will struggle more when the Black Tuesday budget bites. Having said that, Australia is a good country in which to be ill, when measured against much of the world. And for that I am truly grateful.

All things are possible.


To comment, click on the title, and scroll down.

Everybody knows . . .


10 thoughts on “Budget: Copd patients to cough up

  1. Barbara, this was an informative piece. I have been lucky to have visited Australia, and found it the only place I would live in the world other than the US. Granted my visit to your lovely continent did not include trips to the area of the have nots, and I was on vacation without a care. But I found the country beautiful and the folks I encountered to be some of the nicest folks I have met in the world.

    The plight of the folks with COPD and other terminal diseases will only get worse as costs increase, and more and more folks are diagnosed with these diseases. As I stated in my blog sometime ago, COPD will only get the necessary attention when someone famous is diagnosed and dies as a direct result of the disease or until some beloved figure is seen gasping for breath with a nose hanging from their nose will the general public begin to pay real attention. Thankfully here in the US more and more attention is being paid to the disease, but as you know, no real strides have been made in recently. Please take care, Bill

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Bill for taking the trouble to read my posts. You are very encouraging to me.
      Yes, Copd is an almost invisible disease, given the huge number of lives it claims. People like you have helped raise the profile of the illness. It will be different one day.

      I was thinking Bill of writing a post on snake oil cures for Copd. Have you ever had a go at anything a bit out there?
      I do believe there are alternative medicines that really help (and some that don’t) but I’ve yet to see a magic bullet.

      So glad you visited Australia. I loved America when I visited in the 1980s and was a guest of the daughter of the great film director John Houston. Her husband, Gil Denis, a fine man who wrote the excellent Johnny Cash biopic, was helping me with a screenplay project. I noticed straight away how positive Americans were. I could’ve easily stayed in Portland or Oregon and I really wanted to go to Montana.

      Your country, like mine, has a great many migrants, making it an interesting stew of people. I love your writers and music makers, your poets and presidents (some of ’em).
      My long haul flight days are over, but I can zip over to Florida and visit with you and your readers, which I will do later today. Cyber space is our new airplane. Cheers Bill, hope all’s well as can be.


      • Barbara, I will be honest, if my Doctor does not recommend something I don’t tale it. And because of my complete and total fear of snakes, I would NEVER knowingly try any snake related medicine. NEVER EVER LOL. The magic bullet is still in some lab being developed someplace in the world. It won’t get to the shelves fast enough to save me, but I do believe they are working on it as we speak. Take care, Bill


  2. Barbara – I didn’t hit the like button because you and your peers are going to be short shifted when it comes to medical care the same as everyone on Medicare in the US, but I wanted to let you know I read every word you so eloquently wrote.
    I will never listen to Leonard Cohen’s song, “Everybody Knows,” the same again.
    I didn’t know a lot about COPD before I started reading your blog along with Bill’s and some others. I knew, here in the states, we were being hit with one commercial after another for different prescription drugs being available. Of course no one ever mentions the cost of the medication in the commercial or what percentage won’t be able to pay for that medication.
    You write with such clarity about COPD and it’s direct link to your illness. I so remember the enticing advertisements that were once everywhere. One of the best things that’s happened is that they’re few places a person can smoke in the US. The areas are becoming larger and larger that are smoke free.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Sheri, how do you find the time to be there for so many people?
    Thank you once again for your kind and thoughtful responses to my posts. You have cheered me on in ways I can’t believe. Doing this blog, I’m afraid of two things: the first is that no one will read what I write (with all the writers out there on the Net) and secondly, that I will be overwhelmed and not able to keep up.
    I’ve had a look at how you behave towards people on your lovely blog and if I can offer others even a fraction of what you do, I shall feel very satisfied.

    Sheri, we shall fight these harsh changes to healthcare but I do hope we follow the Scandinavian model more so than the US user-pays model. Politicians can so easily lose touch with ordinary people. It’s weird because we are actually a very wealthy country with a Triple AAA credit rating (one of only 8 in the world).
    I hope you and Tom and the little dog are still singing away and that you all have big smiles on your faces.
    (It’s tomorrow in Australia – and it’s beautiful).


  4. Great advert Barb!!! Suitably macabre to impress the medicos amongst us and get attention from most people. Do you think you would have noticed an ad like that when you were young and smoking or do you think denial is such a strong driver?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, ‘Everybody Knows’!
      Thanks Grant. Great question. Hard to say for me, but I’ve read the quit smoking campaigns have been successful.
      The plain packaging of cigarettes had Big Tobacco take Australia through every court, so they were worried.
      I’m concerned that young women are using cigarettes to stay thin.
      The John Cleese ad was my favourite.

      x Barb


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