Thursday, January 19, 2012

Death and bureaucracy

DEATH is not acknowledged in the business world. When our mother died, my sister and I struggled to convince corporations and authorities we weren't concocting some outrageous scam. We took her death certificate to the bank ("We need more proof"), to the post office ("Susie! This lady's claiming her mother died. Sorry dear, it's not that we don't believe you") and the phone company ("Yes, but the account holder still needs to notify us in person"). "Our clients don't usually die," the girl from superannuation told us. "They retire. We don't have procedures for this."

Once we'd convinced Super Girl that our mother had died, we assumed she'd be quick to process the superannuation fund. Mum had listed two beneficiaries - myself and my sister. But a month later, Super Girl wrote to inform us a third beneficiary had stepped forward to claim a share of mum's superannuation. Processing was suspended while they investigated this anonymous beneficiary's claim.

We were mystified by this twist to our mother's history. Had Super Girl discovered a long-lost child in mum's past? At first Super Girl refused to identify the secret claimant, explaining the superannuation policy was "confidential". Finally, she relented and revealed the mystery beneficiary was our father. "But they were divorced more than 20 years ago," I said.

"That's not on file," she said. "I need to follow up his claim. So I wondered if you could help me out. We don't seem to have his contact details on file."

"But if he's made a claim, why don't you …"

"That's confidential," Super Girl snapped.

"Fine. My father's contact details are confidential too."

It was consoling to realise if Super Girl didn't have dad's contact details, he hadn't attempted to muscle in on his daughters' inheritance. Just to be sure, I rang him. He promptly sent us an email confirming his financial connection with our mother ended in 1990 and he would make no claims on her estate.

Super Girl never told us how she unearthed our father's name, so we think she must have discovered an old policy in my mother's file. Once my father provided her with a statutory declaration confirming he was not stepping forward as a beneficiary, it took eight months to process mum's policy. It was a particularly complicated case apparently: rather than retiring, our mother had died.

Unlike many of their clients, the superannuation industry surprisingly doesn't seem to have that much experience with death or divorce.


Australian carbon price much higher than in Europe

THE gulf between Australia's incoming fixed carbon price and the floating international price is set to widen as Europe's economic troubles and regulatory uncertainty undermine carbon markets.

The value of European Union Emission Allowances (EUAs) has halved since June and touched a record low of €6.38 ($7.85) a tonne of carbon dioxide on January 4.

The value of Certified Emission Reductions units, mandated under the United Nation's Clean Development Mechanism - tradeable internationally but mostly sold as offsets to liable parties in Europe - fell to a record €3.28 a tonne on Monday.

On Tuesday, French bank Societe Generale cut its forecast for European Union permit prices in 2012 by 28 per cent to €8.90 a tonne, on lower emissions because of worsening economic conditions and faster than expected deployment of renewable energy.

SocGen's Paris analyst, Emmanuel Fages, said if European regulators failed to set tight limits in the carbon market after 2020, when the continent's emissions trading scheme enters its fourth phase, "prices in an oversupplied market could rapidly fall further from present levels to values close to zero".

From July 1, Australia's biggest emitters will be liable to pay a carbon price of $23 a tonne, rising by 2.5 per cent a year until 2015, when it will float subject to a floor price of $15 a tonne, itself rising for another three years until it is reviewed.

Deutsche Bank analyst Tim Jordan said "clearly there's parts of business that would like access to a carbon price of €6 a tonne, but that would defer the decarbonisation of the Australian economy".

"There'll be pressure on the government to consider a lower price but I think the Parliament has passed the legislation and parties would be unlikely to reopen debate by 1 July," he said.

In November, Deutsche downgraded its forecasts for the price of European permits in 2012 to between €5 and €7 a tonne and predicted "if there is a repeat of the distress in interbank lending markets that we saw in 2009 … we think prices could break below €5 a tonne for a time".

Bloomberg New Energy Finance analyst Seb Henbest said there was "not a lot of price support on the horizon" for international carbon prices. A mooted increase to Europe's 2020 emissions reduction target from 20 to 30 per cent was the only thing that could boost the price.

But Mr Henbest said Europe would not be the main driver of international carbon prices indefinitely. At some point, Europe would exceed its so-called "supplementarity" limits, which allow it to buy permits from overseas, mainly via CERs.



Why would people go and buy something that they can get elsewhere for free? Lots of Australians spend big on private health insurance despite Australia's "free" (taxpayer-funded) hospitals because they know how poor bureaucratically-controlled healthcare can be. Three current articles on that below

"Free" hospital treatment not so free if they refuse to treat you

Brisbane pensioner Merv McLean furious after waiting more than 15 years for cataract surgery only to receive letter urging him to have surgery done privately

A BRISBANE pensioner waited more than 15 years to get his cataracts treated only to receive a letter urging him to have the surgery done privately. Retired public servant Merv McLean is furious after being told by the Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital he had been dumped from the list because his condition was considered "non-urgent".

And he's not alone. In what doctors see as an affront to Queensland's free public health system, The Courier-Mail has obtained two letters sent by the RBWH to patients requiring cataract surgery telling them to go elsewhere.

Mr McLean has accused the hospital of giving him false hope, and robbing him of years of quality of life. "If I had known they were going to tell me to get lost I could have had the surgery 10 or 15 years ago," said Mr McLean, 75.

Australian Medical Association state president Richard Kidd described the Queensland Health strategy as "penny wise and pound foolish". "There are a number of studies from around the world that have shown that cataract surgery, if you do that in a timely way, you prevent over 30 per cent of the falls that people would otherwise have," Dr Kidd said.

Mr McLean, a former education department administration officer from Brookfield in Brisbane's west, said he had to wait nine years just to get on the waiting list for cataract surgery. He said he was staggered to get a letter last November from the hospital's executive director, David Alcorn.

"The length of the waiting list has meant we have not been able to provide this appointment for you," the letter said, suggesting he consider "alternative management options" with his doctor, optometrist or ophthalmologist.

The Courier-Mail has obtained a copy of a similar letter sent to another patient around the same time. Mr McLean is now having the cataracts removed privately. He said the surgery will cost him nearly $4000 - even with a pensioner discount. He complained to his local member Bruce Flegg (LNP, Moggill) who said Mr McLean had been treated appallingly.

Dr Alcorn said patients who urgently needed treatment received priority.


Victorian woman forced to fly 400km to give birth after hospital turns her away

PREGNANT women in rural Victoria are being forced to travel hundreds of kilometres to give birth because of a shortage of hospital beds. A Mildura mother was yesterday forced to fly to Bendigo after she was turned away from Mildura Base Hospital because there was no room for her.

It comes as the Herald Sun revealed today a baby boom had put pressure on hospital maternity wards.

Martine Fletcher gave birth to twin boys Lachy and Thomas this morning in Bendigo, more than 400km from her Red Cliffs home. Mrs Fletcher's mother, Susan van Steenis, said it was the second time her daughter had been turned away from the hospital. Ms van Steenis said her daughter was turned away from Mildura Base Hospital about 8am yesterday morning because the nursery was full.

She said after discussions with hospital staff her daughter, and son-in-law Toby, were taken by air ambulance to Bendigo. "It is absolutely ridiculous, this is twice it’s happened now," she told the Herald Sun this morning. "There's six beds in there. For a regional hospital in a place the size of Mildura. It’s totally inadequate," she said.

Ms van Steenis, herself a theatre nurse, said her daughter was flown to Adelaide during her first pregnancy three years ago where she gave birth to twin daughters, Bella and Romy. "It’s simply appaling."

She said her daughter had been left "absolutely distraught" by the ordeal. "She’s got two little girls here who are missing her, and we don’t know how long it will be until she can come home," she said.

Mildura Base Hospital chief Dane Huxley said the decision to fly Mrs Fletcher out was made in her best interests. “The clinical advice I had was that it wouldn’t be wise to keep her in our hospital,” he said.

“We have a six-bed special care nursery, last week it was almost empty, this week for whatever reason it was full. “If you put too many babies in special care nursery it does become dangerous and you have to make a decision on what is best for the patients. “You don’t want a specal care nursery that is full."

Mr Huxley said the incident was not indicative that there was a hospital bed crisis.


52% of Australians flee public hospitals

MORE THAN half of Australians now have private health insurance - and the insurance industry is reaping the benefits, boosting its revenue from premiums by more than $1.25 billion last financial year.

According to the Private Health Insurance Administration Council's annual report, the gap between insurers' revenue, which totalled $15.4 billion last year, and insurance payouts is widening, with increases in premiums in some cases outstripping inflation.

The Gillard government has seized on the revenue figures to argue 30 per cent health insurance rebate should be means-tested, which could save the budget up to $2.4 billion.

Legislation to strip high-income earners of the 30 per cent rebate on their private insurance has twice been rejected in Parliament, but the government's chances of a third effort succeeding received a massive boost in December when Labor secured an extra vote in the House of Representatives with the resignation of Harry Jenkins as Speaker.

With the votes of Greens MP Adam Bandt and independent MP Andrew Wilkie in hand, Labor only needs the support of just one more crossbenchers. West Australian Nationals MP Tony Crook has indicated he could support the bill, saying he was open to further discussions with the government.

The report showed that 52 per cent of Australians have general private health insurance and 45.4 per cent have private hospital cover. The latter exempts the policyholder from paying the Medicare surcharge of 1.5 per cent of income and guarantees the rebate.

According to Health Minister Tanya Plibersek, that is placing a massive strain on the scheme's financial position.

Means-testing the private health insurance rebate would affect 2.4 million health fund members, stripping individuals earning more than $80,000 a year and families earning more than $160,000 of the right to claim the tax break.

According to Treasury modelling, almost 8 million private health insurance policyholders would not be affected by the changes.

Ms Plibersek said it was not fair for ordinary workers to pay for the health cover of the wealthy. "Because the private health insurance industry is in a strong financial position, it is not appropriate for lower and middle-income Australians to be subsidising the health insurance of millionaires," she said."And while the industry grows, so does the cost to taxpayers of the private health insurance rebate - so that if we don't act now, the rebate will deprive the wider Australian health system of $100 billion over the next 40 years."

The report showed that while the industry's revenue stream from premiums grew by 8.8 per cent, benefits paid out to members only increased by 7.6 per cent.

Private health insurance incentives were introduced in 1997 to encourage Australians to take out insurance policies to support the struggling sector.

The rebate is now one of the most expensive and fastest growing areas of the health budget and is projected to cost taxpayers about $5 billion in 2011-12.

Treasury modelling estimates also showed that, if the changes to the private insurance rebate were to come into effect, 99.7 per cent of people would remain in some form of private cover as a result of the incentives of Lifetime Health Cover and the Medicare levy surcharge.



Paul said...

All I will say, knowing as I do what the system is like, and the direction it is going, if this man had the means for surgery 10-15 years ago, then why did he not do so at some point in that past? He's indicated by his statement that he would have done so if he knew how long the Public sector wait would be. After the first ten years then surely there must be at least some scribble on the wall. People who can afford to do so should look after their own best interests as much as they can. Medicare will get you through the door in an emergency (most times) but the demand by the aging boomer population for all manner of surgerys on the public dime means that rationing of resources has effectively already begun.

jonjayray said...

$4,000 is a lot of money for some people

I paid $1,000 for that op but I had private health insurance

Paul said...

True indeed for some and maybe this chap's Public Service Super didn't last the distance, but our system as it stands creates a false perception that care in the Public sector is free compared to shelling out for Private cover, and that's a choice a lot of people with adequate means still make based on that belief. (I can understand that choice up here where the only Private hospital is an efficient alternative to suicide). The perception of the Public system as being "free" though does create a level of expectation that just can't be met every time without a hell of a lot more taxation. One of the problems seems to be that many think Medicare is an insurance policy itself just like many used to think taxes represented a savings plan for a pension. Medicare goes nowhere near covering the costs of the system and was really only meant originally as a lower income and emergency care safety net. Demographics are killing it slowly. What's that quote of Thatcher's? "Socialism is well and good until you run out of other people's money" (or to that effect). The financial milking that goes on in much of the Private sector is a story for another day. Take care.