But the US, which ranked last overall, was marked down on equity and efficiency. It spends far more on health than any other OECD nation, but delivers medium-quality outcomes for the average user. The report notes that the impact of 'Obamacare', President Obama's reforms to expand health insurance coverage, has not yet been realised.
Out of 11 countries observed in the report, Australia spends the least on health as a percentage of gross domestic product. Data from 2010 shows we spent 8.9 per cent of GDP on health, slightly below the OECD average.
Taxpayers get a good return on that investment: Australia ranked 2/11 behind the UK on quality, assessed on whether the care is effective, safe, well co-ordinated and patient-centred.
But our health system was ranked 8/11 for accessibility, let down by poor performance on the key indicators of cost and timeliness. Compared to the UK, a significantly higher percentage of Australians reported:
having serious problems paying, or being unable to pay, medical bills
having out-of-pocket medical expenses of more than US$1000 a year
insurance companies refusing payment for care, or not paying as much as expected
Relative to Switzerland, which performed best on timeliness of care, Australians also reported much higher instances of:
difficulty getting specialised tests such as CT or MRI scans
long wait times between diagnosis and treatment
long wait times to see a specialist or receive elective surgery
Data from the
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare shows median waiting times for elective surgery grew from 33 to 36 days over the four years to 2012, and the time taken to treat 90 per cent of patients blew out to 265 days from 219.
Elizabeth Geelhoed, professor of health economics at the University of Western Australia, said while there are known issues with timely delivery of health services in Australia, our poor ranking on cost-related access was surprising and had to be taken "with a grain of salt".
"That doesn’t fit with my understanding of where we are," Professor Geelhoed said. She told Fairfax Media the result could reflect a perception problem among the one thousand Australian survey respondents, rather than an actual limitation on their health care accessibility.
The survey also asked whether patients had skipped a recommended medical test, declined to see a doctor about a problem, or failed to fill a prescription in the past year because of cost. It found 16 per cent of Australians said they had done so - higher than the UK (4 per cent) and Canada (13 per cent) , but lower than New Zealand (21 per cent) and the US (37 per cent).
Jennifer Doggett, health consultant and fellow with the Centre for Policy Development, said the survey findings reflect other research in this area.
"As a proportion of total health spending we pay more out-of-pocket for our health care than Americans do," she said. "There is a majority of the population who is healthy and pays very little for health care and a minority who is sick and pays a lot."
Ms Doggett said Australia lacks a comprehensive safety-net for ongoing medical expenses, such as catheters, which can cost up to $7000 a year but only attract $535 in Commonwealth rebates.
The one indicator in which Australia performed much better than the UK was 'healthy lives', which looks at mortality from preventable conditions, infant mortality and life expectancy at age 60. Both the UK and US fared poorly on each of those measures.