Background: Poor health increases the likelihood of experiencing poverty by reducing a person's ability to work and imparting costs associated with receiving medical treatment. Universal health care is a means of protecting against the impoverishing impact of high healthcare costs. This study aims to document the recent trends in the amount paid by Australian households out-of-pocket for healthcare, identify any inequalities in the distribution of this expenditure, and to describe the impact that healthcare costs have on household living standards in a high-income country with a long established universal health care system. We undertook this analysis using a longitudinal, nationally representative dataset - the Household Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia Survey, using data collected annually from 2006 to 2014. Out of pocket payments covered those paid to health practitioners, for medication and in private health insurance premiums; catastrophic expenditure was defined as spending 10% or more of household income on healthcare. Results: Average total household expenditure on healthcare items remained relatively stable between 2006 and 2014 after adjusting for inflation, changing from $3133 to $3199. However, after adjusting for age, self-reported health status, and year, those in the lowest income group (decile one) had 15 times the odds (95% CI, 11.7-20.8) of having catastrophic health expenditure compared to those in the highest income group (decile ten). The percentage of people in income decile 2 and 3 who had catastrophic health expenditure also increased from 13% to 19% and 7% to 13% respectively. Conclusions: Ongoing monitoring of out of pocket healthcare expenditure is an essential part of assessing health system performance, even in countries with universal health care.
Out-of-pocket expenditure Universal health care Australia Inequality Household living standards Poverty