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News & Trends - Pharmaceuticals

Surging costs force Australians to skip GP visits, delay vital medicines and limit hospital care

Health Industry Hub | November 23, 2023 |

Pharma News: Recent data has unveiled a concerning trend in healthcare accessibility throughout 2022-23. The analysis revealed that double the number of of individuals in need of General Practitioner (GP) consultations refrained from seeking medical attention due to financial constraints, when compared to the previous year.

Australian households suffered the largest fall in living standards of any advanced economy over the past year, according to the latest data from the OECD. The nation’s real household gross disposable income per capita declined by 5.1%.

Robert Long, Head of Health Statistics at Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), highlighted the substantial increase in people forgoing or delaying GP visits and prescription medication due to costs.

“This was double the number compared to 2021-22, when 3.5% of people put off or did not see a GP when they needed because of the cost. There was also an increase in people who delayed or didn’t get prescription medication when needed due to cost, from 5.6% in 2021-22 to 7.6% in 2022-23,” he commented.

Dr Elizabeth Deveny, CEO of Consumers Health Forum of Australia (CHF), expressed deep concerns about the intertwining issues of accessibility and affordability.

“Especially in the big smoke, access and affordability have become one and the same. Maybe there is a local healthcare provider so access should be easy but people simply can’t afford to go. Cost issues get compounded by distance. We hear stories of how high cost, long distance, lack of safety and more create a complex web of health disadvantage,” she stated.

Despite efforts by the Albanese government to incentivise primary care bulk billing, it is unlikely that many Australians will witness a significant increase in accessible healthcare. The recent initiative offering triple government rebates for bulk billing concession cardholders and children under 16 aims to encourage GPs.

However, Dr Nicole Higgins, President of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP), expressed scepticism. She said “We expect we’ll see an increase in bulk billing for children, pensioners and healthcare card holders, and also veterans, but it’s unlikely to result in an increase in bulk billing for other types of patients.”

The statistics for 2022-23 revealed that financial constraints weren’t limited to GP consultations; they affected seeking specialists and hospital care too. The reasons for delaying or avoiding medical specialists due to cost rose from 8.0% to 10.5%, while hospital care impacted by cost increased from 1.8% to 3.2%.

Mr Long highlighted the disproportionate impact, stating, “Younger people and those living in areas of most socio-economic disadvantage were more likely to delay or not use certain health services when needed because of the cost.”

Another concern was the impact on mental health services, with a staggering 23.0% of young individuals aged 15 to 24 delaying or avoiding mental health consultations due to financial reasons compared to 8.6% for those aged 65 and above.

Furthermore, the ABS survey indicated a rise in the inability to see preferred GPs, an increase in waiting times for urgent care, and an overall deterioration in timely access to healthcare services.

Dr Deveny reiterated the critical role of advocacy in ensuring healthcare accessibility, stating, “We will continue to advocate on behalf of Australian healthcare consumers to government for more affordable healthcare, so everyone can get healthcare when and where they need it.”

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