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The legal needs of older people  ( 2004 )  Cite this report

Ch 5. Health



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Access to health services and consumer rights


The Australian health care system is based on a combination of public and private sector involvement, with private medical practioners providing primary and specialist care in the community, and a mixed public and private system providing comprehensive acute services. With the population of people aged over 65 expected to triple to 6.6 million in the next 50 years,27 there has been concern about the increasing costs of health care.28

The burgeoning costs of health care have resulted in a shift of responsibility to provide services from the State to the individual. This shift is reflected in the increased prevalence of, and reliance on, private health insurance,29 and in government incentives for people to use private health insurance. The waiting lists for public hospitals are also increasing,30 and the number of consultations bulk-billed by GPs throughout Australia fell from 80 per cent in 1995–1996 to 71 per cent in September 2002.31

In 1999–2000, approximately 24 per cent of non-hospital GP services were provided to the 12 per cent of the population who are over 65. The rate of use of GP services by older people is also more than double that of people under the age of 65.32 With older people accessing medical and health care services more than other age groups, the impact of allocation of resources to health care will have a significant influence on older people’s ability to access proper health care.



Commonwealth Department of Health and Ageing, Aged Care in Australia, Commonwealth Department of Health and Ageing, Canberra, August 2002.
Health expenditure on older people (on average $4,919 per person aged 65 or more in 199394) is nearly four times that of people aged under 65 years ($1,301). Australian Bureau of Statistics, Health of Older People, Australian Social Trends 1999, Catalogue n.4102.0, Australian Bureau of Statistics, Canberra, 1999. Available at <http://www.abs.gov.au/Ausstats/abs%40.nsf/94713ad445ff1425ca25682000192af2/9f963da8ecf49309ca25699f0005d61f!OpenDocument> (Last accessed 17 December 2003).
Australian Bureau of Statistics, Private health insurance, Australian Social Trends 2001, Catalogue n.4102.0, Australian Bureau of Statistics, Canberra, 2001. Available at <http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs%40.nsf/94713ad445ff1425ca25682000192af2/996b3621f22dfa17ca256bcd00825574!OpenDocument> (Last accessed 30 September 2003).
NSW Audit Office, NSW Department of Health: Waiting times for Elective Surgery in Public Hospitals, Performance Audit Report n.116, 18 September 2003. Available at <http://www.audit.nsw.gov.au/perfaud-rep/Year-2003-2004/WaitingLists-Sept2003/execsum.htm.> (Last accessed 17 December 2003).
Commonwealth Department of Health and Ageing, Table B7: Percentage of Services Bulk Billed by Quarter and Financial Year of Processing By Broad Type of Service, Medicare Statistics, September 2003. Available at <www.health.gov.au/haf/medstats/tableb7a.pdf> (Last accessed 5 October 2003).
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, Older Australia at a Glance, p. 68

27  Commonwealth Department of Health and Ageing, Aged Care in Australia, Commonwealth Department of Health and Ageing, Canberra, August 2002.
28  Health expenditure on older people (on average $4,919 per person aged 65 or more in 199394) is nearly four times that of people aged under 65 years ($1,301). Australian Bureau of Statistics, Health of Older People, Australian Social Trends 1999, Catalogue n.4102.0, Australian Bureau of Statistics, Canberra, 1999. Available at <http://www.abs.gov.au/Ausstats/abs%40.nsf/94713ad445ff1425ca25682000192af2/9f963da8ecf49309ca25699f0005d61f!OpenDocument> (Last accessed 17 December 2003).
29  Australian Bureau of Statistics, Private health insurance, Australian Social Trends 2001, Catalogue n.4102.0, Australian Bureau of Statistics, Canberra, 2001. Available at <http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs%40.nsf/94713ad445ff1425ca25682000192af2/996b3621f22dfa17ca256bcd00825574!OpenDocument> (Last accessed 30 September 2003).
30  NSW Audit Office, NSW Department of Health: Waiting times for Elective Surgery in Public Hospitals, Performance Audit Report n.116, 18 September 2003. Available at <http://www.audit.nsw.gov.au/perfaud-rep/Year-2003-2004/WaitingLists-Sept2003/execsum.htm.> (Last accessed 17 December 2003).
31  Commonwealth Department of Health and Ageing, Table B7: Percentage of Services Bulk Billed by Quarter and Financial Year of Processing By Broad Type of Service, Medicare Statistics, September 2003. Available at <www.health.gov.au/haf/medstats/tableb7a.pdf> (Last accessed 5 October 2003).
32  Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, Older Australia at a Glance, p. 68


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Ellison, S, Schetzer, L, Mullins, Perry, J & Wong, K 2004, The legal needs of older people in NSW, Law and Justice Foundation of NSW, Sydney