Cost of health: the big issue of the poor
The growing cost of health care is the number one reason people on or near the poverty line are unable to improve their health, according to the NSW Council of Social Service (NCOSS).
A new report from NCOSS, ‘Poor Health: The Cost of Living in NSW’, reports on a survey of 400 low- income earners from Sydney and regional NSW about their experience of health services in NSW and their priorities for action.
NCOSS CEO Tracy Howe said when respondents were asked to select what they saw as the most important state government issues, the top response was ‘a quality health system’ (50% of respondents). Respondents rated health above issues such as cost of living, crime and even jobs.
When survey respondents were asked what was stopping them from improving their health, the most frequent barrier they identified was cost.
“Australians pay more out of their own pockets for health treatment than most other OECD countries,” Ms Howe said.
“People on low incomes are more likely to experience a broad range of chronic health conditions, such as arthritis, kidney disease, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, poor oral health and some cancers, but they are least likely to be able to afford to treat these conditions.
“This has a huge impact on their ability to remain independent, with people experiencing poor health also likely to experience a loss of income because they can only work shorter hours or not at all.”
Cost of health outstrips inflation
The cost of health care in NSW over the last decade has risen by just over double the rate of CPI. Medical and hospital services such as GP and specialist consultation fees, hospital charges, and medical insurance prices, have risen at almost three times the rate of CPI.
Almost one in five (17.3%) people said they could not afford medical treatment, with those receiving Newstart Allowance (31%) or parenting payments (35%) most likely to identify cost issues.
Those surveyed nominated a state-wide dental health scheme that provided all people with access to timely and affordable dental care as the top policy proposal, with two-thirds (67%) of respondents saying that it would make a big difference to their lives and the lives of their families.
Reduced waiting times for surgery and in emergency rooms also rated high in people’s health priorities. Shockingly, the report notes that even within the public health system, the median waiting time for non-urgent elective surgery for patients living in low socio-economic areas was almost 100 days longer than for patients living in high socio-economic areas.
Read the report
Poor Health: the cost of living in NSW can be downloaded at: https://www.ncoss.org.au/sites/default/files/public/policy/CostofLiving_Health_FINAL.pdf