July 16 2003
By David Wroe
Country Victorians battling chronic diseases are spending up to a fifth of their earnings on their illnesses, a survey has found.
The survey, by the Chronic Illness Alliance, found a person with multiple sclerosis earning an average of $250 a week after tax, spent $53 - or 21 per cent of their income - on health care.
The alliance is calling for the Federal Government to create a new class of Health Care Card based on the severity of a person's chronic illness and the costs they face instead of their income.
Costs included doctor visits, medications, transport costs, hospital stays, domestic help and household expenses such as higher phone bills. Despite two-thirds of the 1626 people surveyed having Health Care Cards, just 35 per cent had access to a bulk-billing doctor.
Survey respondents said they went without other basic household items to meet the cost of care, alliance spokeswoman Christine Walker said. Yet there was good evidence people who could afford quality health care were more likely to get better and return to work, she said.
Households spent an average of $52 a month on medications, $19 on GP visits and $25 on specialists.
More than half the respondents travelled to Melbourne for treatment, costing them an average of $40 a month for petrol and parking.
Forty-one per cent reported additional phone costs ranging from $28 to $34 a month. In 39 per cent of households, at least one member had to quit work indefinitely as a result of chronic illness.
A spokesman for Health Minister Kay Patterson said sufferers of chronic illnesses on low incomes in rural areas were precisely the people the Government's Medicare package was designed to help.
The Government would pay doctors incentives of up to $6.30 a consultation to bulk bill all concession card-holders in rural areas.
Victorian Medicare Action Group spokesman Rod Wilson said the costs
were alarming as they showed "the most vulnerable in our community are
having to pay more and more to meet their basic health-care needs".
Copyright © 2003, The Age Company Ltd