Media Release dated 12th December 2023

Basic healthcare becoming a luxury to Australians as cost-of-living increases

A new survey by the Australian Patients Association and Healthengine shows that recent trends of financial stresses in the healthcare system have become widespread, with potential major population health consequences.

CEO of the Australian Patients Association Mr David Clarke said: “The data we have been collecting for the past three years is now presenting genuinely alarming trends, with nearly three in every four Australians reporting that they are either delaying or skipping some kind of basic healthcare for financial reasons.”

“This has become a serious concern for our future. In the coming months and years these failures to access treatment early will reverberate through the healthcare system, presenting as a less healthy population requiring higher levels of care in the future,” he said.

“This works against the basic principle that a functioning healthcare system ensures that people have early access to good quality diagnosis and treatment. When this does not occur, the system faces higher costs later in acute care. This appears to be happening now in Australia’s healthcare system,” he said.

Healthengine CEO Dan Stinton said that the issue is becoming wider than simply access to GPs: “Basic access to GPs was already in decline with the general reduction in bulk billing, but affordability issues have now gone much further, with the combination of inflation and high interest rates impacting on Australia’s health.

“Many people are paying for essential healthcare on credit, while an increasing number are delaying or skipping basic diagnostic testing, prescription medicines, mental health care, and dental care.”

APA CEO Mr Clarke also said that the report underlined the problems of public awareness of new initiatives which could help address some of the issues: “Urgent Care Clinics are just one example. They are now available nationally for people to see a doctor or nurse at no charge. However, most of these clinics are not yet working near capacity, and only 27% of the more than 9,000 respondents to our survey knew of their existence. “

“The calls for reform of a declining healthcare system which costs increasingly more have been going on for a long time, and the answers are challenging and complex. The rising cost of living is a factor which exacerbates the problems, but is not the underlying cause. Many of these issues pre-date the current government. However, now is the time to act to make access to basic healthcare affordable for all Australians, and we need to start with the concept that early access to GP’s is affordable,” said Mr Clarke.

– Ends – Detail below

‘The Patient View’ – a report of a survey of more than 9,000 Australians – is a joint initiative of the Australian Patients Association and Healthengine, which focuses on cost-of-living pressures on healthcare, and awareness of new initiatives.  

Key points:

Cost of Living pressure is impacting healthcare decisions with nearly three in four (73%) respondents either delaying or skipping care.

General Practice

  • Nearly three in five (59%) respondents report delaying a GP visit, with the primary reason being cost.
  • 61% reported paying in the range of $21-$60 to see their GP.
  • While government reports that around 80% of General practices bulk-bill (at least particularly) , only 10% oof respondents reported bearing no cost when attending their GP.

Diagnostic testing

  • One-third (33%) postponed a diagnostic test or scan in the last six months due to associated out-of-pocket costs.

Prescription Medication

  • 28% skipped their prescription medication due to cost concerns.

Mental health

  • 37% of respondents described their current health as poor or fair.
  • Nearly one in four sought mental health support in the last six months and 83% received support with a 78% satisfaction rate across providers.
  • Australians are delaying seeking mental health support. 27% of respondents are delaying that support for financial reasons.
  • Of those who self-identified as having poor or fairly poor mental health, 62% attributed financial stress as the key contributor.
  • 72% said that their workplace had an impact (positive or negative) on their mental health.
  • Of that 72%, seven in ten (one half of all respondents) said that their workplace made it worse or caused them to seek support.

Dental

  • 59% (three in five) respondents reported delaying dental treatment and of those who visited dentist in the past six months, 22% were for emergency procedures.

Allied health

  • People are neglecting their allied health care with over two in five (43%) reducing their allied health appointments.

Emergency departments

  • Over one in four (27%) are choosing Emergency Departments for non-emergency care to avoid out-of-pocket costs.

Private health insurance

  • Of the 73% of respondents who said the cost-of-living pressures impacted their healthcare decisions, 13% have cancelled their Private Health Insurance and 18% switched to a less expensive coverage due to cost-of-living pressures.

Paying on credit

  • More than one in three (37%) respondents changed the way they pay for healthcare. Of that 37%, 52% moved to paying by credit card and 43% borrowed from other sources.

Awareness of emerging initiatives

  • MyMedicare: Only 25% of respondents said they plan to register for MyMedicare, a free voluntary patient registration model, with 61% reporting being unaware of the scheme.
  • 60-day prescriptions: Only 49% are aware of the 60-day prescriptions which came into effect on 1 September 2023.
  • Urgent Care Clinics. Only 23% of the respondents reported being aware of critically important bulk billing Urgent Care Clinics for non-emergency urgent care, while people continue to present at Emergency Departments for non-emergency care.
  • Awareness on availability of Medicinal Cannabis is poor with only 17% having accurate knowledge of its availability by prescription or clinical trial.
  • Telehealth: Over two in five (42%) respondents have used telehealth in the past 6 months and the top reason for using being convenience (52%).

A copy of the report can be downloaded here.

For further information contact:

David Clarke, CEO APA on 0416 156 923  Email: dclarke@patients.org.au

Dr Nick Coatsworth, APA Ambassador for Health Reform on 0417 610 483 Email: ncoatsworth@patients.org.au

Dan Stinton, CEO Healthengine on 0420 313 028 Email: dan.stinton@healthengine.com.au