When it comes to your health, medical expenses are always high even if you have insurance or health cover. In Australia, there are millions of Australians each year who are emitted to the hospital. From the year 2010 to 2011, The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare found in the Australian hospital statistics 2010-11 that there were 8.9 million Australians who received care from an Australian hospital.
This included “4.9 million with same-day acute separations, 3.5 million overnight acute separations; and about 367,000 sub-acute and non-acute separations. There were also 7.7 million non-admitted patient emergency services and almost 43 million outpatient services provided by public hospitals.”
With such a large number of admissions, the cost for an Australian patient with an illness or disease can be costly. We’ve outlined 5 of the most common and major medical expenses that Australian patients will have to cover the cost for.
1. Loss of Productivity
“The ongoing financial costs are compounded for families because it is often the case that some members of the family will have to leave their jobs…This means that the family income can decrease at the same time as treatment costs increase.”
Julian Burton, KIDS Foundation
Loss of productivity is the largest medical expense that has been found for Australians when dealing with a medical crisis. The term ‘Loss of Productivity’ refers to:
• Short-term disruption of employment such as reduced hours of work, extended leave, leave without pay and/or decreased efficiency
• Long-term effects such as loss of salary, income and/or overall employment loss due to an illness, disease or health related incident that prolongs an individual from working for a period of time.
Loss of Productivity for Australians with Cancer
For a patient who has been diagnosed with cancer, this could mean months of time off due to treatment and recovery. With the loss of salary, the patient’s family is the primary carer and in this case, will cover majority of the financial burden.
In the report Cost of Cancer, conducted by Cancer Council of Australia in 2005, it was found that the expected lifetime productivity cost is $62,400 per person with cancer. Australians with Colorectal cancer, Lung cancer, Head, neck and thyroid cancer and Stomach, liver and pancreatic cancer were impacted the most with productivity loss.
Loss of Productivity for Australians with an Injury
Safe Work Australia released a report entitled Cost of Work-related Injury and Disease, which states that the injured worker would bear 74 percent of the total costs associated with the injury or disease. This includes the loss of current and future income.
Loss of Productivity for Australians with Diabetes
According to Diabetes Australia’s 2005 Australian AusDiab Follow-up Study (Australian Diabetes, Obesity and Lifestyle Study), the productivity losses totaled up to $4.1 billion, of which a large portion was held by Australians with Diabetes.
Loss of Productivity for Australians with a Disability
According to the 2003 Australian Bureau of Statistics found in a survey that the median gross of personal income per week of Australians aged between 15-64 years with a disability was $255. This is compared to $501 for those without a disability. This amount of income significantly decreased overtime due to the severity of disability.
2. Treatment, Medication, Rehabilitation and Therapy
The Australian government offers a large range of public hospitals that can be used free of charge at a time of a medical crisis. However, not all types of treatment, examination or medication are covered by the Medicare system.
Being treated as a public patient in an Australian hospital means that you do not get a choice of when you are admitted. This can be an issue for patients who require immediate attention and assistance. Being on long waiting lists that may take up to several months to a few years can be more harmful for one’s health than to cover the medical expense in private health care.
An example of a cost that will not be covered by Medicare through the public patient system is surgery for solely cosmetic reasons. This can be an issue for burn victim patients who require critical attention and surgery. The surgery for burn survivors are often to minimize:
• Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
• Loss of self worth
• Impact of body image such as scarring
• Impact on relationships in career, family and friends
• Lowered self esteem
• Suicide attempts or mental illnesses such as depression
Therefore the importance of surgery in this case is important for the overall well-being of the patient. The cost of ongoing surgery and treatment can be extensive for a patient depending on the severity of the burn.
The road to recovery can be a long term journey for both the patient and their family. The cost of therapy and rehabilitation can be extensive and is unfortunately not covered by the current public health system in Australia. Medicare does not cover most physiotherapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, eye therapy, chiropractic services, podiatry or psychology services.
When a patient is dealing with a medical crisis, it is always best to be close to the hospital at all times in order to have immediate care and to have the best chances of survival. After doing research and selecting where you feel you will receive the best care and therefore the best chances of recovery, families will need to cover most of the cost as this option is not possible for public patients under Medicare.
For many Australian families, this option can be difficult particularly if the hospital where your loved one is receiving care and treatment is not nearby. Out of state patients for example, may find it extremely difficult to continue working and living in their current state, whilst being hours away from medical assistance.
Although there are concession schemes, charities and grants that can be used to minimize the cost, there are still however associated costs with relocating for medical care. These include:
• Transport and moving costs
• Selling or renting out current home
• Loss of employment and dealing with unemployment periods
Having a medical emergency can affect anyone, regardless of where you live in Australia. For individuals who live in remote areas or rural locations, this can be merely impossible to receive the care and treatment needed in your hour of need.
Therefore, many Australians use a range of Travel Grant Schemes or Travel Assisted Schemes that enable Australians with a medical illness or disease to receive concessions or allowance for the transport cost involved for medical care.
Although there are these forms of assistance available for Australians, there are still added costs including food, time off work and short term accommodation costs that can have financial burden overtime.
5. Carer, Home Modifications & Equipment
The Australian Bureau of Statistics outlined in the Disability Australia 2009 Report that 4 million Australians had a disability. This accounts for 18.5 percent of the population. In 2003, in the Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers (SDAC) it was found that 1 in 5 Australians had a disability.
Of the 3.8 million Australians who participated in a survey conducted through the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 59% of individuals with a disability living in households, reported that they needed assistance in at least one of the following areas:
• cognitive or emotional tasks
• health care
• reading/writing tasks
• household chores
• property maintenance
• meal preparation
It was also found that there are 2.6 million carers in Australia assisting individuals with a disability. Majority of these carers were unpaid and consisted of family members giving care for their loved ones in need. For these households, families will endure a significant loss of income and bare a large financial burden.
Australians who employed a carer for assistance also carried a large financial burden with carers working over 40 hours per week providing care.
Australians who have a disease or an illness may need special equipment to help the recovery process and to help with adjusting back to everyday life. There are a range of equipment and tools that can be used on a daily basis for a better quality of life. These include:
• Hearing aids and other educational resources
• Wheelchairs and other mobility devices
• Guide Dogs
Home modifications may also need to be done in order to accommodate the patient’s current health. For example, creating a ramp and easy walkways for individuals who have recently been paralyzed and for patients with a disability.