Aug 25, 2023

Cost of living: 68% of older people go without some essential healthcare

National Seniors want to see reforms to reduce private health costs, including adequate funding for Medicare services. [Source: Shutterstock]

Key points:

  • The report is based on a survey of nearly 6,000 older people, shows that in recent years
  • Prescription medication and General Practitioner (GP) appointments were the least likely to be skipped because of cost, but even they were found unaffordable for 5%-7% of older people
  • The report is based on the 11th National Seniors Social Survey of people aged over 50 and living in Australia, conducted in February 2023

New research suggests that 68% of older Australians have gone without some essential healthcare or hesitated about it because of the cost in recent years.

A new report from the National Seniors Research Team showed mental health care, dental treatment and dental checkups were the most likely to be forgone, with 20%-26% of survey respondents unable to afford them on one or more occasions.

On top of these numbers, for every form of healthcare service the survey inquired about, there were another 21%-33% of people who hesitated over the cost.

These percentages are higher than the general Australian population figures reported by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) in its latest Patient Experiences Survey, which asked if people delayed or did not access healthcare because of cost.

Survey respondents reported various health and well-being consequences of going without care including untreated problems, undiagnosed conditions, worsening symptoms, and mental health impacts. Some people reported having to wait until their conditions were bad enough to require hospitalisation.

One 81-year-old respondent said, “As I cannot afford minor medical treatment, I have to go to hospital for all other incidents and leave this till I have to be transported.”

Another 72-year-old said, “I don’t tell the GP everything that is wrong. I put up with some things and try to help myself with other things. I have some neurological symptoms which I have not taken to the GP as I am concerned about having to see specialists and the costs are inhibitive.”

Senior Research Officer Doctor Lindy Orthia said the consequences of inaccessible healthcare are dire for some older people, who simply put up with pain, illness or injury because they can’t afford to get it diagnosed or treated.

As a result, National Seniors want to see reforms to reduce private health costs, including adequate funding for Medicare services. 

“People have halved or skipped medication, seen unqualified doctors, or resorted to treating themselves because of healthcare costs. This is not what we expect in Australia.”

The survey asked respondents whether they could access a bulk-billing practice easily if they needed a GP within a week – only 39% said “yes” while 33% said “no” and the rest were unsure. Unsurprisingly, these figures were worse for older people living in regional or remote settings. 

A more heartening survey finding indicated only 5% of respondents didn’t visit a regular GP or practice. However, there were statistically significant geographic differences, with lower proportions of people from the Northern Territory, South Australia, rural areas and remote regions regularly seeing the same GP.

Have you struggled to get in to see your usual GP? Let us know in the comments. 

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