Over-50s cutting GP visits to save money

3 minute read

While most seniors see regular GP visits as essential to good health, the cost of living is causing some to skip appointments.

Almost half of Australians aged over 50 are reducing their healthcare costs, with some of those skipping regular GP appointments because of the rising cost of living, according to new research. 

The Cost of Health Report 2023, produced by Australian Seniors, surveyed 1200 Australians over 50 to see how the current economic environment had changed their health-spending habits. 

The main ways people are cutting their health spending, the report says, are skipping or reducing regular dentist appointments (23%), spending less on expensive healthy ingredients (21%), and skipping or reducing regular GP visits (14%). 

The respondents estimated they pay $1586 in out-of-pocket expenses each year which, if extrapolated to the entire Australian population over 50, totals $14.18 billion annually.  

The top five health costs listed by respondents were unexpected costs (61%), specialist doctor appointments (50%), dentist appointments (50%), medicines (34%), and GP appointments (28%). 

Sixty-seven percent still regarded regular GP appointments as essential, despite rising costs. 

Seven in 10 respondents said they always or mostly use a bulk-billing GP, waiting six days on average to get an appointment; 71% agreed that it was becoming harder to find “doctors who provide sufficient bulk-billing or affordable gap payments”. 

Almost 40% said they were prepared to travel “some distance” to find bulk-billing GPs, a number which rises to 57% for seniors living in rural areas. 

When asked to list their 10 top health concerns 56% of respondents named loss of mobility as their biggest fear, followed by losing the ability to live independently (47%), getting injured in an accident (39%), managing a chronic or terminal illness (37%), managing possible aged care needs (32%), affording medicines and medical devices (30%), affording doctor appointments and treatments (29%), affording healthy food (26%), accessing suitable local health services (25%), and managing possible dementia care needs (23%). 

About 53% of respondents were somewhat, very or extremely concerned about contracting covid. Almost half saw a silver lining to the pandemic, saying it had raised their awareness and focus on maintaining or improving their health, made them take up exercise and walking outdoors, and caused them to eat more health food in general. 

When asked to list the top 10 issues facing the Australian healthcare system, 68% of respondents to the survey nominated waiting times for appointments and treatments as the biggest problem, followed by waiting times for emergency services and paramedics (66%), the aged care system (63%), the cost of appointments and/or the bulk-billing shortfall (58%), the nurse-patient ratio in hospitals (56%), the cost of medicines (51%), the doctor-patient ratio in hospitals (51%), local access to affordable care (42%), the quality of medical staff (31%), and access to outpatient care (31%). 

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