The good news: cost has become less of a reason for people delaying or not going to see a GP, and for not buying prescription drugs.
The not so good news is that the 3.4 per cent of the population who don’t see the doctor or the 7 per cent who don’t have their prescriptions filled amounts to hundreds of thousands of people who are not maintaining their health because it’s unaffordable.
The Productivity Commission’s Report on Government Services – Primary and Community Care – provides a snapshot of our health, nationally and state-by state.
For both categories, Tasmania performed the worst, with more than 8 per cent of the population not seeing a GP due to cost and nearly 10 per cent failing to fill their prescriptions.
A bigger proportion of older people, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, are seeking early health treatment.
Nationally, over the ten years to 2018-19, the proportion of older Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who received an annual health assessment increased by 26.2 percentage points to 37.1 per cent, compared to an increase of 9.3 percentage points to 33.3 per cent for older, non-Indigenous Australians.
Waiting times for GP appointments are also up, with almost a quarter of patients having to wait more than 24 hours for an appointment.
Lack of access to GPs was also behind an increase in preventable admissions to hospital, with almost three million presentations at emergency departments during the past year for conditions that should have been managed by a GP.
The rate of preventable visits to public hospitals increased by more than 50,000 in 2018-19 compared with the previous year.
Speaking in The Australian newspaper, the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners President Harry Nespolon blamed inadequate Medicare rebates for GP visits for the numbers of people failing to see a doctor when in need.
“This report should send a chill down the spine of the nation’s health ministers,” he said.
“Decisions such as the Medicare index freeze mean patient out-of-pocket costs are increasing year on year. Some of these people who are delaying or avoiding a trip to their GP will end up in a hospital bed with a far more severe condition. This compromises their care and places a huge burden on the nation’s health system.
In 2017-18, of the $38.1 billion government recurrent expenditure on primary and community health services, around three-quarters was funded by the Australian Government and one-quarter by State, Territory and local governments. This included:
- $8.9 billion for community health services (12.4 per cent by the Australian Government and 87.6 per cent by State, Territory and local governments).
- $2.4 billion for dental services (64.8 per cent by the Australian Government and 35.2 per cent by State, Territory and local governments).
For 2018-19, Australian Government expenditure was:
- $9.8 billion on general practice
- $8.5 billion through the PBS and RPBS on prescription medicines filled at pharmacies.
- $36.9 million on funding of PBS medicines to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander primary health services in remote and very remote areas
- $749 million on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander primary health services.
Spiralling out-of-pocket health care costs are the biggest concern of older Australians.
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