Although Australia’s health system is based on a model of universal healthcare, people on low incomes or living in disadvantaged or isolated communities experience particular problems accessing services that are readily available to other Australians.
These include the capacity to access and pay for general medical and oral health care as well as specialist care. In particular, governments already struggling with the mounting costs of healthcare are facing increasing demand from an ageing population.
Private enterprise is often perceived as an attractive solution to funding and service delivery shortfalls. But that poses serious challenges for addressing the ongoing inequality experienced by some Australians in their access to healthcare.
In addition, people on low incomes often find it difficult to balance the costs of prescriptions, medical appointments and health maintenance, with other household expenses. For example, the limited availability of public oral health services and the costs of private services means that people on low incomes tend to receive episodic pain relief rather than the routine care that can reduce and prevent dental disease.
ACOSS and Health
ACOSS works to ensure that the needs of low-income consumers remain high on the agenda of health reform in Australia, through our involvement with our members in the health sector. We also work with the network of Councils of Social Service in Australia to advance a social determinants of health approach in our policy and advocacy, recognising that people on low incomes are often less able to access timely, affordable health care; experience higher rates of poor health, particularly oral and mental health; and that poor health can in turn exacerbate socio-economic disadvantage and exclusion.