Gittins: the link between health and income
Adding a $7 GP co-payment and increasing the already high prescription co-payment will only prove more costly for the economy in the long run. Ross Gittins comments.PT3M3S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-3b5rz 620 349 July 1, 2014
It’s good news week. There are lots of bad things happening in the world and journalists regard it as their job to dig them out and wave them in front of your face. No piece of disheartening news should go unreported.
But good things are happening, too. And I often think people would enjoy reading the news more if we didn’t ignore so many of them.
Illustration: Simon Letch.
One of the main jobs of the federal government’s Australian Institute of Health and Welfare is to produce a report card on the state of Australia’s Health every two years. The latest edition is just out and it’s crammed with good news.
Perhaps our most basic desire is to delay our death, and on this score we’re doing particularly well. "Australians have one of the highest life expectancies in the world and can expect to live about 25 years longer, on average, than a century ago," the institute says.
In 1910, a baby boy could expect to live for 55 years and a baby girl 59 years. Today it’s 80 and 84. That puts us sixth highest on the world league table for boys and seventh for girls, but the countries coming top – Iceland and Japan – beat us by less than two years. And we leave the Yanks for dust.
Of course, that’s just for babies. Those of us who survive beyond our youth can expect to live longer again. A man turning 65, for instance, can expect to live another 19 years to 84. Women can expect another 22 years to reach 87.
All that’s on average, of course. It happens because, by the time you reach 65, you’ve successfully avoided having your life cut short by accidents or other causes of premature death. You’ve become one of those who’ll exceed the at-birth average.
But even if we are living longer, is that so wonderful if it means we’re spending more years living with some kind of disability? Well, some disabilities are worse than others. And my guess is most people would tell you that, though their particular disability isn’t fun, it beats the alternative.
The news is better than that, however. The institute’s figuring shows that as our years of life are lengthening, our years of living with disability aren’t increasing commensurately. And though they’re increasing slowly for women – to almost 20 years for a newly born girl – they’re falling slowly for men, to less than 18 years for baby boys.
The rate of daily smoking has been falling for 50 years, from 43 per cent of adults in 1964 to 16 per cent today. Quitting smoking can increase your life expectancy by up to 10 years if you do it early enough.
The institute says vaccination is one of the most successful and cost-effective health interventions. And the proportion of 5-year-olds who've been vaccinated rose from 79 per cent to 92 per cent over the four years to 2012. Thank God for the nanny state.
The proportion of new cases of cancer each year is steady – kept up by the ageing of our population – but rates of death from cancer are continuing to fall. Over the 20 years to 2011, the mortality rate for all cancers fell by 17 per cent to 172 deaths per 100,000 people.
This is because of reduced exposure to the risk of cancer (such as fewer smokers), improved prevention (such as better sun protection), advances in cancer treatment and, for some cancers, earlier detection through screening programs (bowel, breast and cervical).
The reduction was mostly the result of falls in lung, prostate and bowel cancer deaths among men, and falls in breast and bowel cancer deaths among women.
The five-year survival rate from all cancers has increased from 47 per cent to 66 per cent over the past 20-odd years. And among people who’ve already survived five years, the chance of surviving for at least another five is 91 per cent.
There’s been a 20 per cent fall in the rate of heart attacks in recent years and death rates from heart disease have fallen by almost three-quarters over the past three decades. The rate of strokes has fallen by 25 per cent in recent years and the death rate from strokes has fallen by more than two-thirds.
In just over 20 years, the death rate from asthma has fallen from a peak of 6.6 per 100,000 people to 1.5 deaths. The rate of people being hospitalised for asthma has fallen by 38 per cent.
And the rates of death through most causes of injury – accidents, drowning, suicide and homicide – are down by 3 per cent to 5 per cent in less than a decade.
We’re even feeling better. More than half of those 15 and over consider themselves to be in excellent or very good health, with another 30 per cent saying their health is good. This is up a bit on a similar survey in 1995.
What’s more, even the oldies are feeling pretty good. Among people aged 65 to 74 living in households, more than three-quarters rated their health as excellent, very good or good. Among those 75 and older, it was two-thirds.
It would be wrong to think everything about our health and healthcare is fine but, just this once, we’ll celebrate what’s going right.