The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) has released a new report on the communal health of Australia as a whole. Let's take a look at some of the most significant findings, and how it might affect your private health insurance needs.
Cancer survivability increases, but still beats out heart disease fatalities
Possibly the most significant finding was that total deaths from cancer are now, for the first time, outnumbering the total deaths due to cardiovascular disease.
Cardiovascular disease, which includes coronary heart disease, stroke and heart failure, accounted for about 43,600 deaths over 2013. All types of cancer, however, reached 44,100 over the same time period. While coronary heart disease still continues to be the leading cause of specific death (19,800 deaths in 2013), it appears that the myriad different forms of cancer are now presenting a more significant threat to the wellbeing of Australians.
As both of these diseases continue to be a major part of the healthcare landscape of Australia, it would not be surprising to find some insurers putting more emphasis on coverage for chemotherapy and heart disease solutions.
However, there is also some good news in the cancer and heart disease arena. Cancer rates are increasing, but so are survival rates, while heart disease death rates have fallen by 75 per cent from 1983 to 2013. A reducation in risk factors such as smoking seem to be creating positive outcomes for sufferers of both diseases, while more advanced medical and surgical techniques are assisting those who are most at risk.
People are living longer, and consider themselves healthier
"The report indicates that health outcomes for Australians have improved over time."
Possibly as a result of these higher survival rates, life expectancy in Australia is continuing to increase – something that is often used as a general indicator of the quality of healthcare in a nation. According to the AIHW findings, Australians are now living the longest lives on national record.
"The report indicates that health outcomes for Australians have improved over time with life expectancy at an all-time high of 80.3 years for males, while a baby girl could expect to live for 84.4 years," explained Health Minister Sussan Ley.
What does this mean for healthcare in Australia? With more people living longer, there is an increasing burden on the healthcare system to try to keep up with the increased medical needs of these older Australians. According to the AIHW report, it is coronary heart disease and dementia that are the primary concerns in this regard. One is fatal, while the other could necessitate an increased need for people in the caring professions, such as nurses and mental health professionals.
This being said, it appears that the majority of older Australians consider themselves to be in good health; though visual issues, deafness and arthritis still continue to be concerns. Lifetime health cover could ensure lower costs for the private cover needed for a comfortable later life.
Rural and Indigenous Australians still have health gaps
Rural Health Australia highlights how there are still significant gaps between rural and metropolitan Australians.
Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders have, generally, had poorer outcomes when compared to non-Indigenous Australians. Life expectancy tends to be lower, diabetes risk is higher, as is coronary heart disease and kidney disease, while they are also twice as likely to die or be hospitalised from an injury.
However, it appears that this is slowly beginning to change. Fewer people from this demographic are smoking, while avoidable deaths from circulatory and kidney diseases are also dropping. A gap still remains, but it is significantly smaller than it was in previous years.
A significant contributor to this issue was remoteness. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, about a quarter of the Indigenous population of Australia lives in either remote or very remote Australia. Considering the distance that such communities might be from local health centres, this could make the public system as well as the private system difficult to access.
Access to providers is only the tip of the iceberg for rural Australians: diabetes becomes more common the further from a city a person is, as do mental health conditions and low levels of daily exercise. Rural Health Australia highlights how there are still significant gaps between rural and metropolitan Australians, and Indigenous people could be major stakeholders in this difference.
Disability reforms just the start of required adjustments
Disability continues to have significant co-morbidity for other health issues both physiological and psychological, making strong private health cover particularly important for the one in five Australians that the AIHW report are currently living with a disability.
About half of those of working age with severe limitations in communications, mobility or self-care reported that they have 'fair' or worse health. Compared with just under 6 per cent of those without similar limitations, there is clearly a significant gap in perception.
However, it is not just perception that is significantly different either. Mental illness, anxiety and obesity were all more prevalent among people with disabilities, and they were also more likely to smoke or report doing no physical exercise.
While changes to the Prostheses List and other similar efforts could do a lot to increase accessibility to health services and affordability for people with disabilities, it appears that there are still significant steps needed to be taken in order to provide positive health outcomes to those with disabilities.
Private hospitals lead the way in elective surgery
Private hospitals were generally more likely to deliver elective surgery.
On the private healthcare front, the report had some interesting direct findings about private hospitals. Over 2013 to 2014, public hospitals provided the vast majority of Australia's emergency department care and outpatient care. On the other hand, private hospitals were generally more likely to deliver elective surgery.
It appears that those who wish to take preventative measures before a problem becomes acute enough to warrant immediate intervention are generally investing in the private health system.
Another interesting finding is that while private hospitals receive about two-thirds the number of hospitalisations in comparison to public hospitals, they provide only half the number of days of patient care. This could indicate that people who check into private hospitals are able to leave more quickly, or that the generally non-emergency nature of the services provided are less severe in terms of recovery time.
In whatever case, it appears that private hospitals are the dominant force in preventative care, while public hospitals are providing the majority of emergency medical attention.
Australians take control of their mental health
Mental health continues to be a concern for Australia, as the AIHW finds that there were almost 8.7 million mental health contacts made in 2013 to 2014 alone. Furthermore, it appears that it is not a therapist, a psychologist or other specialist that people will generally contact first for Medicare-subsidised health-related services: It is a general practitioner.
Furthermore, the number of services as a whole has been steadily increasing since 2009. Australians seem to be taking their psychological health more seriously in recent years, and choosing to access more subsidised healthcare services. This could be a good sign for the overall health of the nation, as depression and anxiety continues to be one of the most pervasive complaints in Australia.
These are just a few of the findings of the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare's 2016 report. If you are interested in learning more about how to protect your health and livelihood, get in touch with the health insurance comparison experts on 1300 44 22 01 or get in touch with us online.