Healthcare affordability is a big headache

Healthcare affordability affects everyone in Australia, including those in Broken Hill.

According to the latest report from the Australian Patients Association (APA), Australians are struggling to afford essential healthcare.

“As the economy struggles, it is more important than ever to ensure that Australians can access and afford the health services they need. From delays in mental health care to elective surgery, access to timely care is in a holding pattern,” APA Chief Executive Officer Stephen Mason said.

The APA research regularly collects data and surveys people to understand their perspectives and experiences of Australian healthcare.

Around 11,000 people completed the survey throughout Australia.

The main concerns of respondents were the cost of private health insurance, emergency waiting room times, mental health care access, and telehealth access.

Dr Zena Burgess from the Australian Psychological Society (APS) said the findings of the APA research showed more needs to happen to improve access and affordability of mental health care.

Since COVID-19 began, 88 per cent of psychologists have seen an increase in demand for their services.

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Dr Burgess explained that before the pandemic, only one in a hundred psychologists could not take on new patients; now, it is one in every three psychologists who are unable to see new clients.

“…Australians want value for money for their private health insurance to be able to access high-quality psychological care. It is little wonder, demand for mental health services is rising:

Australians are suffering from crisis fatigue as they deal with natural disasters, the pandemic and global uncertainty. All the while, the cost of living continues to rise,” Dr Burgess said.

The Far West Local Health District (FWLHD) recognised that Far West farming communities’ mental and emotional wellbeing had been adversely impacted by drought.

FWLHD realised the need to enhance mental health and drug and alcohol support services according to its ‘United as One’ report that reviewed the healthcare service last financial year.

The report explained that hospitalisation rates for intentional self-harm were twice the rate of all other LHDs in NSW.

The APA survey identified inflexibilities in accessing telehealth, a service for people living in remote and regional areas so they can access specialist services, was challenging for people aged between 18-34.

The criteria requiring a patient to have had a face-to-face consultation with the same GP or another practitioner at the same practice within 12 months to access the Medicare rebate for general telehealth services appears to be a barrier that disproportionately affects younger people.

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Overall, 14 per cent of people surveyed said this had prevented them from accessing telehealth to get timely and affordable care, whilst 22 per cent of people aged 18-34 encountered this barrier.

When the Hawke Labor government first launched Medicare in 1984, it aimed to provide universal access to quality health care for all Australians.

Surveys and reports like the APA’s Australian Healthcare Index keep a pulse check on the health care service.

According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, the Australian health system is funded by all levels of government and non-government entities such as individuals, private health insurance providers, and injury compensation insurers.

There is evidence that Australia’s healthcare is becoming less affordable in Price Waterhouse Coopers ‘Australia’s out-of-pocket healthcare problem’ by Stuart Babbage and Dr Dana Hutchins.

In 2019 Australians were paying about 17 per cent of total health expenditure directly through out-of-pocket expenses, equating to $29.8 billion, or about $1,235 per person.

While the current approach, or lack of cohesive approach, to out-of-pocket expenses in Australia is not working, the report’s authors do not advocate for those expenses to be entirely removed and highlight that there are Australian Constitutional impacts of such a change.

John Goss predicted in the 2000s that the total health and residential aged care expenditure is projected to increase by 189 per cent between 2003 and 2033 from $85 billion to $246 billion, an increase of $161 billion.1

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The FWLHD’s ‘United as One’ report identified that a future challenge for the Far West region will be the ageing population, which is projected to grow to 29 per cent by 2036.

The increasing pressure on Australia’s healthcare system presents a twofold challenge for regulators; how to keep the Australian healthcare system both affordable and universally accessible for all Australians.

1John Goss, Projection of Australian health care expenditure by disease, 2003 to 2033, HEALTH AND WELFARE EXPENDITURE SERIES, Number 36, Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, Canberra, 2008.

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