Australians are struggling to access and afford essential healthcare, according to the latest Australian Healthcare Index from the Australian Patients Association and Healthengine
Australian’s top three issues facing Australian healthcare were:
- the cost of private health insurance (45%)
- emergency department waiting room times (40%) and
- access to mental health care (39%)
Another key concern for respondents is the wait time for elective surgery exceeding the recommended treatment time. 56% of people needing surgery within 30 days (Category 1) are forced to wait 31 days or more, and 15% have been waiting over a year. 61% of people needing surgery within 90 days (Category 2), have been waiting beyond the recommended time, and 26% have been waiting over a year.
The CEO of the Australian Patients Association, Stephen Mason said, “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.”
Commenting on the findings, Dr Zena Burgess, CEO of the Australian Psychological Society and Patron of APA said more needed to be done to improve access and affordability of mental health care.
“Reducing wait times is essential, but Australians also want value for money for their private health insurance to be able to access high quality psychological care. It’s 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.”
2022 research from the Australian Psychological Society found that since the pandemic began, 88% of psychologists have seen an increase in demand for services. 1 in 3 psychologists are unable to see new clients, prior to the pandemic only 1 in 100 could not take on new clients.
Dr Marcus Tan, CEO and founder of Healthengine finds that Australia’s healthcare rating is dropping.
“People who completed the survey rated Australian healthcare a 7.2 out of 10, dropping from 7.8 in March 2021 to 7.6 in Oct 2021. The overall trend is heading in the wrong direction suggesting that the Australian healthcare system is under stress, likely leading to worse experiences and outcomes. We view this as a concerning leading indicator that an impending and significant health crisis is on our hands,” said Dr Tan.
Other key issues raised by respondents:
Access to mental health: The Australian Healthcare Index found that 24% of people surveyed said their mental health has declined over the past six months of those 40% identified COVID-19 as contributing. In the past six months, 26% of respondents sought mental health support and of those, 18% have not yet received support. 59% of those who have not yet received support have been waiting for over three months to access the care they need. States with the most people waiting over 3 months for mental health care include SA (67%), NSW (59%), QLD (59%), and VIC (59%).
GP costs: 48% say they would move to another bulk billing GP if their current GP introduced an out-of-pocket cost for a standard appointment. Only 16% said they’d stay with their GP regardless of any new out-of-pocket costs. As people age, stats show they are less likely to change to a new GP. Younger people would be most likely to change GPs, as only 38% of those aged 65 or over saying they’d switch GPs if an out-of-pocket cost was introduced, while 56% of 18-34-year-olds would make the change to a new GP.
Dental out-of-pocket costs: 38% of people said they do not have a regular dentist/clinic. Of those, 26% said they don’t have a regular dentist because they don’t want to pay out-of-pocket costs.
Private health insurance faces consumer critique: While 36% of people participating in the Australian Healthcare Index survey said they don’t have private health insurance, the other 64% who do are not all fans. Of those who do have private health insurance, 37% aren’t satisfied and reasons cited include poor value for money, price of insurance is not affordable, and that private health insurance extra coverage is lacking. According to the Department of Health, people find private health insurance complex, struggle to understand what is covered under different policies, and don’t fully understand what they are getting for their money .
Cost of prescription medication versus the cost of living: When asked if prescription medicines are affordable to them, 24% of respondents disagreed, which suggests people may have to choose between medication and other essentials.
Telehealth inflexibility: The criteria requiring a patient to have had a face-to-face consult with the same GP or another practitioner at the same practice within 12 months to access the Medicare rebate for general telehealth appears to be a barrier that disproportionately affects younger people. Overall, 14% of people said this has prevented them from accessing telehealth to get timely and affordable care, whilst 22% of people aged 18-34 faced this barrier.