The Ethical Implications of Incorporating Managed Care into the Australian Health Care Context
KeywordsManaged health care model
Administering health care resources
Access to health care
Australian health care
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AbstractAIMS Managed care is a market model of health care distribution, aspects of which are being incorporated into the Australian health care environment. Justifications for adopting managed care lie in purported claims to higher levels of efficiency and greater ‘consumer’ choice. The purpose of this research, then, is to determine the ethical implications of adapting this particular administrative model to Australia’s health care system. In general, it is intended to provide ethical guidance for health care administrators and policy-makers, health care practitioners, patients and the wider community. SCOPE Managed care emerges as a product of the contemporary, neo-liberal market with which it is inextricably linked. In order to understand the nature of this concept, then, this research necessarily includes a limited account of the nature of the market in which managed care is situated and disseminated. While a more detailed examination of the neo-liberal market is worthy of a thesis in itself, this project attends, less ambitiously, to two general concerns. Firstly, against a background of various histories of health care distribution, it assesses the market’s propensity for upholding the moral requirements of health care distributive decision-making. This aspect of the analysis is informed by a framework for health care morality the construction of which accompanies an inquiry into the moral nature of health care, including a deliberation about rights-claims to health care and the proper means of its distribution. Secondly, by way of offering a precautionary tale, it examines the organisational structures and regulations by which its expansionary ambitions are promoted and realised. CONCLUSIONS As a market solution to the problem of administering health care resources, the pursuit of cost-control, if not actual profit, becomes the primary objective of health care activity under managed care. Hence, the moral purposes of health care provision, as pursued within the therapeutic relationship and expressed through the social provision of health care, are displaced by the economic purposes of the ‘free’ market. Accordingly, the integrity of both health care practitioners and communities is corrupted. At the same time, it is demonstrated that the claims of managed care proponents to higher levels of efficiency are largely unfounded; indeed, under managed care, health care costs have continued to rise. At the same time, levels of access to health care have deteriorated. These adverse outcomes of managed care are borne, most particularly, by poorer members of communities. Further, contrary to the claims of its proponents, choice as to the availability and kinds of health care services is diminished. Moreover, the competitive market in which managed care is situated has given rise to a plethora of bankruptcies, mergers and alliances in the United States where the market is now characterised by oligopoly and monopoly providers. In this way, a viable market in health care is largely disproved. Nonetheless, when protected within a non-market context and subject to the requirements of justice, a limited number of managed care techniques can assist Australia’s efforts to conserve the resources of health care. However, any more robust adoption of this concept would be ethically indefensible.
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