When our first child was born, a very nice nurse came to visit us every few weeks or so, from when we first got home to when our daughter was two months old. The nurse was friendly, helpful, did a health check, gave good advice, and was very much appreciated.
After two months, the nurse stopped visiting us at home, but we visited her at her office every few months. It was a great service, but we weren’t special – every new baby in Australia gets this, as far as I know, tell, and it was absolutely free.
I remember thinking to myself: “what a country” (which is a quote, more or less, from the movie The Castle). I remember thinking how wonderful it was, at this crazy time in your life when you have a new baby, and you don’t know what to do, and you’re feel overwhelmed at times, that every single person gets a friendly, knowledgable person come and help them for free. It makes you feel like the country cares about your baby.
What a difference it was that it was free, rather than having some co-payment. I would have been happy to make a co-payment, but I realised how different completely free feels to a co-payment. By this time, I had been paying taxes for quite a few years, and obviously I had been getting many benefits that whole time (roads, firefighters, the ABC, a country which is well defended etc.), but this was a benefit which felt very personal. Everyone in the country, including me, is paying taxes to give newborn babies a little help. Then it occurred to the country probably also paid for someone to help my parents when I was a baby. That’s a thought. And a few years later, I went to a hospital emergency room, and at the end they wished me a good night and I walked out, again completely free.
What a country.
Many people advocate co-payments for government services, and in general I agree. Making a service cost something – even a little, even if it’s less than the service costs to provide – causes people to check if they really need it, and to value it more. “People don’t value what they don’t pay for” is the saying. It can help ensure that resources aren’t wasted. For many cases, that is a good principle. But I think that sometimes, completely free is better.