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Health Insurance in Australia: Can You Afford What You Need?

February 4th, 2012 0 comments
Health insurance for all

A public health care system is, in theory, ideal and admirable. This is especially true for countries wherein the public health care system works to cover the medical needs of all of its citizens, regardless of age, income bracket, or other personal characteristics.

Having a public health care system means that citizens don’t have so much worry about their health care expenses for examinations, diagnoses, treatments, hospital stays or medications. It also means they can rely on getting accessible, quality health care from the country’s public clinics, hospitals and general practitioners. But with the economic changes in recent years, is this still true?

Image by Myrmi

What is Medicare?

Public health insurance in Australia is provided under Medicare. Medicare covers the basic health needs of Australians, but does not include all forms of health-related items – there are exceptions such as ambulance services or eyeglasses. These are paid for by the patient themselves from their own pockets, or through private health insurance policies on top of the patient’s Medicare benefits to cover any additional expenses for their health needs.

In addition, some people choose private health insurance in order to avoid the long waiting times that those with public health insurance may encounter. This means that more money is spent on health care services, instead of these services being something everyone may easily and inexpensively access without a private health fund.

Rising Costs of Health Insurance and Care

The problems regarding health care in Australia don’t stop there. Statistics have shown that medication and health services costs have gone up over the past ten years. Some Australians are choosing to forgo medications or other types of health care services, simply because they can’t afford it.

A Newspoll survey states that 19% of the population had delayed or simply chose not to buy non-prescription medicines, 13% didn’t buy a prescription drug they needed, 14% had avoided recommended medical tests, and 13% had put off going to a doctor because of financial concerns. Dental services are at an all-time low of use as well.

Aside from the costs of medicines and other services, the waiting times for patients in public health care institutions in Australia was described as “unreasonable” by 21% of Australians in the same Newspoll. It may take weeks, months, or even years for complex procedures, to undergo treatments and examinations, get test results back and follow through with all the recommended check-ups. Over a third of respondents interviewed for the poll have expressed dissatisfaction that waiting periods have become worse in the past five years.

A Shortage of Doctors

Another worrying issue in Australian health insurance is that the number of general practitioners in public health institutions has been getting lower over recent years. This also accounts for the long waiting periods, as fewer doctors and other hospital or clinic staff means a shortage of supply for an extremely large demand.

Many Australians, especially those in low-income situations, continue to rely on Medicare for their basic health care needs. If you can afford private health insurance, then you can choose whatever policy suits you. But right now, Australians on Medicare are waiting for their government to address the many issues surrounding the country’s public health care system and hope for a brighter, better future, medically speaking.

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