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How many broke Australians are avoiding the doctor and what’s the risk?


Millions of Aussies have neglected their health by skipping out on treatment in the past year.

Nobody likes going to the doctors but there's a worrying trend developing in Australia.

According to new research by Finder, almost 2 in 5 Australians (38%) have skipped medical appointments over the past 12 months because they can't afford treatment or can't be bothered attending.

The scary impact of cost of living on healthcare

One in five Australians (20%) admit they have avoided going to the doctor over the past 12 months because they couldn't afford the appointment.

This is equivalent to 4.17 million Australians who've had to take the drastic step of ignoring health concerns due to cost of living pressures.

A further 16% didn't attend because it 'seemed expensive', while 7% snubbed the doctor because it was too hard or overwhelming.

The survey also found 7% of Aussies avoided the doctor or dentist because they didn't have time or couldn't get off work.

One in 20 (5%) Aussies admitted they avoided the doctor because they were fearful, while the same proportion (5%) didn't know where to access help.

The minority (2%) avoided medical care because they were scared of contracting Covid-19.

Bulk billing GPs on the decline

The number of GP clinics offering bulk billing is declining in Australia.

A 2024 survey by Cleanbill found that only 24% of the 7000 clinics they spoke to offered bulk billing to all customers.

The Guardian made similar findings. Their analysis found the number of dedicated bulk billing practices has fallen as much as 28% in some electorates.

This creates issues. Medicare may cover a portion of private GP consultations but the upfront costs can be a lot.

We asked around the Finder office and spoke to several staff about their experience.

"The problem is you go in, pay for the appointment, pay for the tests, pay for a follow up, pay for medicine. I can't afford to pay all that and wait to be reimbursed," says Finder's Rebecca Pike.

With privately billed GPs, you need to pay for the total cost of your appointment upfront, and then claim a rebate from Medicare.

Some GPs can process the claim for you but you often need to wait for Medicare to pay the rebate – leaving you out of pocket for longer.

"The system still baffles me"

It's not just money concerns. The system itself can be quite confusing and overwhelming.

For example, Finder's utilities editor Mariam Gabaji told us they had to wait over 3 months for their Medicare card renewal to come through.

"I kept delaying my therapy and GP visits until my partner convinced me to go because we could claim the money back once the new Medicare card arrived (I didn't realise this was an option until someone told us)," says Mariam.

"It's been 4 years in Australia but the system still baffles me sometimes."

Mariam isn't alone. The Finder survey also found 7% of people didn't book an appointment because they found it too hard.

"I'm also not great with holding on to receipts and remembering all the visits I have to claim back for so I'm pretty sure I've lost a couple of hundred dollars at least," says Mariam.

"It's a lesson in being more organised but also I wish Medicare would make it easier – it's not easy parting with so much money when the rest of your expenses are also on the up."

What's the risk of skipping appointments?

Tim Bennett, health insurance expert at Finder, said avoiding medical attention could have dire consequences.

"Ignoring health concerns could end up hurting a lot more than your hip pocket," he said.

"Preventative care and regular checkups are essential for catching problems early and keeping medical bills manageable."

Bennett said for some people health insurance is the first non-essential to be cut during times of financial strain.

"Cancelling your private health cover can save you a lot of money. Fortunately in Australia, we have Medicare to fall back on."

"Ditching cover can be a risky move though, especially if you're worried about long waiting times, or live outside of Queensland or Tassie, where ambulances aren't free."

"Instead, you could review your existing cover and see if it's possible to cut any unnecessary cover.

"Dropping down to a lower tier of coverage (Gold, Silver, Bronze, Basic) or nominating a higher excess can help ease the burden while still maintaining some level of cover."

Looking to save on your health insurance? Check out our best health insurance picks for March 2024.

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