The Australian Seniors Series: The Cost of Health Report 2023

Managing healthcare and personal expenses has been a significant concern for Australians in recent years. However, these issues are particularly pertinent to our over 50s community, as we balance health and retirement plans amidst rising living costs.

For many of us, the focus on health and wellbeing during the pandemic and the current public dialogue around economic uncertainty has influenced our relationship with our health and associated costs, while balancing our needs in the present and the future. 

The Cost of Health Report 2023 forms part of the Australian Seniors series and explores subject matters that are growing increasingly relevant to our senior community. Surveying 1,200 Australians over 50, this chapter investigates how recent events and the current economic environment have transformed our attitudes and behaviours towards our wellbeing, health, and healthcare costs.

Australian Seniors Cost of Health infographic 1

Keeping healthy attitudes

Having good health is a priority for our community, and many of us make daily efforts to maintain our health and wellbeing. While over two in five (45%) of us are currently living with major ongoing health challenges, close to three in five (57%) still consider ourselves to often or always be in good physical and mental health. 

While managing chronic and long-term health challenges is tough, we seem to cope better with them the older we get. For instance, those of us aged 80–89 years generally feel like we are coping at least reasonably well with our health issues (82%), in comparison to those of us who are 70–79 years old (62%), 60–69 years old (59%), and 50–59 years old (49%). 

Our community faced significant challenges during COVID-19 lockdowns as our daily routines were greatly disrupted. However, many of us found different ways to care for ourselves, from picking up new hobbies to staying digitally connected with our loved ones. A large proportion of us are taking up regular exercise (58%), health check-ups (58%), and eating healthy foods (56%) as key things to help maintain and improve ‘good health’.

Although nearly a quarter (24%) of us are still very or extremely concerned about contracting COVID-19, close to half (47%) of us agree that the pandemic came with ‘silver lining’ health benefits - such as, having greater awareness and focus on maintaining or improving our health (20%) and taking up exercising or walking outdoors more (20%).

Australian Seniors Cost of Health infographic 3

Combating the rising cost of health

It’s clear that the rising cost of living is impacting many aspects of our lives, particularly our health as we get older. The climbing costs of healthcare services may be a cause for concern, as three in five of us (60%) are completely or largely reliant on Medicare to be able to afford the health treatments we need. Medical services are listed on the Medical Benefits Scheme (MBS) and according to the Australian Medical Association the discrepancy between inflation and the MBS fees subsidised by the government will force medical practices to either absorb increased costs and risk becoming unviable or pass these costs onto patients due to the rising costs of providing medical care. This is particularly important when it comes to doctor and specialist appointments (90%), screening, tests, and scans (63%), and medicine (57%) as these are the health costs that we rely on Medicare to assist with the most. Additionally, dealing with unexpected medical costs (61%) was the most cited concern given the rising cost of living.

Australian Seniors Cost of Health infographic 4

Despite the growing financial pinch many of us may experience, our health is still a priority, and we are finding ways to fund our quest for good health. Having private health insurance to help cover unexpected medical emergencies is the most common reason reported (60%), with an average of five claims each year being made by those of us with private health insurance (56%). In fact, the most frequent claims relate to cover for dental and orthodontics (69%), optometry (58%), and hospital cover for treatment as a private patient (37%). As the cost of living rises, it’s unsurprising that affordability (64%), cost effectiveness (63%), and breadth of policy cover (53%) are the top choice drivers when selecting a provider. 

Australian Seniors Cost of Health infographic 5

Beyond private healthcare, our community is finding other ways to invest in our health through regular exercise (58%), avoiding excessive alcohol consumption (41%), and refraining from smoking (35%). 

The pandemic shined a spotlight on the importance of socialising for our emotional and mental wellbeing, some of us agree that we are putting energy into building and maintaining social connections (18%) these days — creating a wonderful correlation between the improvement of our health and spending time with our loved ones.