The Importance of Universal Health Care
World Health Day has been running since 1950, with a different emphasis each year on an issue of global importance. This year, the World Health Organisation is focusing on universal health coverage. So, what are the statistics on accessing health services around the world? And how does Australia stack up?
Paying for Health
Imagine watching a family member get sick, knowing that you do not have the money to pay for medical services – or if taking your child to a doctor was a major financial decision. At least half the people in the world do not have access to essential health services, and the services available can push people into extreme poverty to pay for the things they need.
The “health for all” objective extends beyond helping people access health care that won’t plunge them into poverty, as the WHO says it has even more significant effects. According to the WHO, offering universal health care “protects countries from epidemics, reduces poverty and the risk of hunger, creates jobs, drives economic growth and enhances gender equality”.
Universal Health Care in Australia
Australians have access to universal health care, through Medicare. Australians and permanent residents have access to subsidised health care for a range of permitted procedures. Australia also offers the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (or PBS) which subsidises a range of essential medications that could otherwise be prohibitively expensive. Australia also offers a “safety net threshold”, which offers even further subsidisation to households who exceed a set amount of expenditure on health care within a year.
Room for Improvement
In a 2017 study, the ABS survey showed that 4% of Australians had delayed or avoided seeing a GP because of the cost, and 7% had avoided filling a prescription because they couldn’t afford the medication. Around 12% had not received specialist medical care due to costs.
While Australia has a world class universal health care system, one major discrepancy is in the life expectancy of Indigenous and Torres Strait Islander people – around 10 years less than someone who is not of Indigenous heritage. There are more deaths in each age group and for all major causes when compared to the non-Indigenous population. Lower utilisation of health services is a commonly cited factor in the increased death rates, and it’s an area that Australia needs to work on to ensure equal health services for all.
Health for All is a simple statement, but it has far reaching consequences for people who do not have access to affordable health care. April 7 is a good day to mindful of people whose finances determine their health, and to be thankful for the services we have access to in Australia.