Rising out-of-pocket medical costs force more than 1m Australians to put off doctor visits: report

| 16.08,18. 03:08 PM |

Rising out-of-pocket medical costs force more than 1m Australians to put off doctor visits: report

Photo: Out-of-pocket expenses for non-hospital medical services are rising. (AAP)

More than one million Australians have put off seeing a doctor in one year because they could not afford it, according to a report from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

Australians are also being slugged $3 billion in out-of-pocket expenses each year, according to the report — despite bulk-billing rates hitting a record high.

It also found 1 in 2 Australian patients faced out-of-pocket costs for non-hospital Medicare services, with the median cost sitting at $142 per person.

Australian Medical Association (AMA) president Tony Bartone said the Medicare rebate had failed to keep up with the increased cost of medical services.

"The cost of providing care continues to rise and the Medicare rebate is inadequate in its entirety," he said.

Consumers Health Forum of Australia CEO Leanne Wells said it was also deeply troubling that 1.3 million Australians had delayed seeing a doctor because of the cost.

"It's really concerning that consumers are delaying care because they can't afford it," she said.

"We know that if you've got an ongoing relationship with a GP, that equates not only to better care, but also impacts on people's lifespan and morbidity.

"The fact people aren't able to take up referrals because of costs, or they're having to face hard decisions about curtailing other aspects of their family budget, that's a concern."

Where the money is going

The report found almost 35 per cent of out-of-pocket expenses were spent on specialist services, while almost 25 per cent went to GP gap payments.

A further 12 per cent was spent on diagnostic imaging services, like radiology.

The out-of-pocket costs also varied depending on postcode, and the nation's capital was the hardest hit.

Almost 70 per cent of Canberra patients incurred a gap fee in 2016-17, compared to 32 per cent in western Sydney.

"Lower income patients in lower income areas are dramatically less likely to have out-of-pocket costs than those in higher income areas," Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said.

"The bulk billing is, as we had hoped, being targeted at lower income people, and higher income people are exercising their choice."

Bulk billing rate hits historic high: Government

The Federal Government also released new figures this morning showing that in the 2017-18 financial year the Medicare bulk-billing rate hit a record high of 86 per cent, with more than 133 million free GP services delivered.

"Medicare funding is at record levels and the comprehensive data released today shows more Australians are seeing their doctor without having to pay than ever before," Mr Hunt said.

However, Dr Bartone said those paying the gap fee were still being slugged with rising costs.

"Where they're not being bulk billed, the out-of-pockets have also increased faster than the rate of inflation," he said.

Mr Hunt said the Government's chief medical officer Brendan Murphy was working to address the "large and sometimes unanticipated out-of-pocket medical fees" some patients face.

"We want a 'no surprises' approach to the fees charged to patients and we will work with the sector to deliver better outcomes to Australian patients," he said.


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