Wealth and health: Calls for equal healthcare access

Amanda Lyons

30/11/2017 2:43:56 PM

Research released this week has revealed Australians of lower socioeconomic status are at far greater risk of poor health.

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The RACGP has called for greater focus on general practice and preventive care to help address healthcare inequalities.

The Australian Health Policy Collaboration’s Australia’s health tracker by socio-economic status shows that greater inequality is leading to broadening gaps in the most fundamental healthcare measures – rates of chronic disease and mortality.
RACGP President Dr Bastian Seidel told newsGP that the information in the report is evidence that far more needs to be done to reduce healthcare inequality currently seen across Australia.
‘Out-of-pocket costs are increasing. If visits to the GP are not better supported, for many Australians they will become unaffordable,’ he said. ‘Low socioeconomic status should never be a major risk factor for poor health.  
‘All Australians must have access to the best medical care available and these figures reveal this is currently not the case.’
Dr Seidel has called on the Federal Government to address the health impacts of socioeconomic disadvantage with an increased focus on general practice and preventive care.
‘All Australian patients want health, not necessarily treatment, and GPs always want to do the right thing by their patients. Our politicians must foster that relationship to improve health outcomes for all,’ he said.
Australia’s health tracker by socio-economic status shows that people in the lower two socioeconomic quintiles – about 10 million Australians – are likelier than their more advantaged counterparts to show risk factors such as smoking and limited physical inactivity. As a result, they experience higher rates of chronic disease and its precursors; for example, they are 60% more likely to live with diabetes and 57% more likely to be obese.
In addition, disadvantaged Australians are not only likelier to have chronic disease, but are also likelier to die from it.
The report also highlights the fact that one third of chronic disease in Australia could be prevented by removing exposure to risk factors such as smoking and low physical activity. Yet, only 1.3% of total health expenditure is dedicated to prevention, the cornerstone of general practice.
The RACGP’s benchmark report, General practice: Health of the nation 2017, found the Medicare rebate freeze to be the federal policy issue Australian GPs most want addressed. Dr Seidel believes the freeze is a significant contributor to inequality of access to preventive healthcare.
‘This freeze has meant more and more patients simply cannot pay the price for health,’ he said.

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