How Australia’s Universal Health Care System Measures Up Internationally

October 25, 2012
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How Australia’s Universal Health Care System Mesaures Up Internationally

How Australia’s Universal Health Care System Mesaures Up Internationally

You can learn a lot about a country by their healthcare system. Australia is one of the flagship nations when it comes to universal, affordable health care, and it shows. Australia ranks very highly in the world, and especially among industrialized nations. It has one of the highest life expectancies, ranking at the head of the pack worldwide. The number one preventable health problems among Australian citizens is smoking, as opposed to obesity-related problems as seen in other highly industrialized nations. As many of her citizens can tell you, Australia’s healthcare system is far from perfect, but when compared to other, similar countries, Australia must be doing something right. Let’s explore some of the comparisons between Australia’s performance as a world leader in overall health of its citizens.

Healthcare Spending Numbers

Australia is the one of the leaders among industrialized or developed nations in lowest healthcare spending as a percentage of GDP. Australian healthcare takes up a paltry 8.9% of its GDP, as opposed to 17% in the United States. The US spends almost exactly double what Australia spends, yet the US is flagging dramatically when it comes to life expectancy and overall wellness. Converted to a per capita basis, as of 2007, Australia spends an average of $3,400 per capita on health care costs, as opposed to the United States, which spends an average of $7,300 per capita. The next highest is Switzerland at $4,500 per capita. The US spends 54% more per capita on health care, despite the fact that they don’t have universal health care.

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The Obesity Race To The Bottom

Only 9.1% of Australia’s population are considered “obese” with a BMI >29, compared to countries like the UK, Mexico, and the US who have obesity rates of 23%, 24.2% and 30.6% respectively. Australia isn’t in the top five of the least obese countries in the world, but it is number six behind Japan, Korea, Switzerland, Norway, and Italy. The least obese nation is Japan with only 3.2% of its residents clocking in with a BMI of 30 or greater. Even though Australia’s obesity problem is 300% higher than the number one nation, it is still a drop in the bucket compared to the bottom ranking countries.

When Did Australia’s Universal Health Care System Start?

Australian universal health care, known today as Medicare, has undergone several changes since its inception in 1975, but it’s basically been same shape since then, with a few exceptions, of course. Of the top 33 industrialized countries in the world, 32 have a form of universal health care. The only exception is the United States, which passed a universal healthcare bill, but will not be implemented until 2014. Australia has a two-tiered health care funding system, which means that the majority of healthcare coverage is provided by the government, which then levies a surcharge based on a sliding scale of taxable income when it’s citizens reach a certain age. Although the “free” health care coverage is far from comprehensive, the current model is enough to make a significant impact on the average life-expectancy of the nation.

Mind The Gap

The vast majority of medical treatments are available either completely “free” of charge, or are at significantly subsidized rates to Australians, however, there are some noticeable gaps. Universal health care doesn’t cover things like dental care, orthodontia, or many eye-related procedures, among others. One can get relatively inexpensive private health insurance coverage, which will then help to cover the costs of medical care not covered by Medicare. The average cost of a private insurance policy for an adult is AU$130 per month with no deductible (but AU does have a cap on amount paid per procedure), compared to the US average of $420 for a single adult with a deductible of $2,935.

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All in all, if you’re wanting to live in a country that has a robust health care system, you could do worse than Australia. Their system is far from perfect, but according to their position at the head of the pack worldwide in terms of health and wellness, it must be getting some things right.