Long waiting times for specialised tests and elective surgery kept Australia's ranking down. Photo: Gabriele Charotte
Australia's health system delivers high-quality care but is let down by accessibility factors including cost and lack of timely access, a new report has found.
An international comparison of 11 health systems shows a high proportion of Australians report problems paying their medical bills and experience delays accessing treatment.
The fifth edition of Mirror, Mirror on the Wall, a report by private health researcher The Commonwealth Fund, suggests Australia is plagued by similar problems as the US in terms of accessibility.
Survey findings reflect previous research: Health consultant Jennifer Doggett. Photo: Supplied
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