The tooth hurts: Poverty harms locals' health
POVERTY is pushing Northern Rivers residents further away from healthcare, with tens of thousands of locals unable to pay for the basics including dental, scripts and doctor visits.
Special NewsRegional analysis of federal health data shows 19,627 - 18 per cent - of local adults were unable to pay for basic dental treatment in the 2016-17 financial year.
The research also shows about 7415 - 6.8 per cent - of Lismore, Ballina, Byron and Kyogle locals could not afford to have their medical prescriptions filled during the 12 months.
About 3.2 per cent of residents reported not seeing a GP because of cost and the average out-of-pocket expense was $8-$35.
The Australian Medical Association's Dr Kean-Seng Lim said health poverty was widespread.
"Unfortunately we have seen an increase in out-of-pocket fees," Dr Lim said.
"Health is a complex business and governments need to look at the system as a whole to create policy that benefits everyone."
Australian Dental Association president Dr Hugo Sachs said the situation was compounded by the often lengthy wait to access government-funded dentistry clinics.
Dr Sachs said lifelong impacts could flow from not having routine oral care - including the possibility of certain cancers.
"There is an opportunity here for governments to reduce waiting lists by increasing funding," Dr Sachs said.
"Going without dental care can lead to significant problems for the patient and this will increase the cost on the health system."
Pharmacy Guild of Australia's Greg Turnbull said he was not surprised people were unable to pay for scripts.
"It is something that should concern health policymakers," the PGA communications director said.
New South Wales Council of Social Services acting CEO Melanie Fernandez said medical poverty was not being adequately addressed by governments.
"For people living below the poverty line, healthcare is a key challenge," Ms Fernandez said.
"In regional areas this is impacted by a lack of services and people having to pay travel and accommodation costs to access healthcare in major centres."
Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt's spokesman said an expert committee was examining medical costs and the government's plan to encourage more trainee doctors to move to regional areas would help in the long run.
Half of us cannot afford health insurance
ALMOST two thirds of Northern Rivers residents do not have health insurance.
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare data shows our region has one of the lowest uptakes of health insurance in the country, with just 41,652 - 38.2 per cent - insured.
Private Healthcare Australia CEO Dr Rachel David said a lack of private medical providers in regional areas and the cost of insurance were behind the low take-up of health insurance.
"Most people take out health insurance because they want access to surgery on time, access to mental health services and to subsidised dental care," she said.
"Wages haven't really risen since 2009 but health inflation - that is the cost of meeting claims or services - has been rising about 5-6 per cent a year."
New South Wales Council of Social Services acting CEO Melanie Fernandez said most Australians could not afford health insurance.
"It is not a priority when families are facing high power bills or struggling to put food on the table," she said.
The Federal Government expects to roll out legislation allowing policyholders to claim travel and accommodation related to hospitalisation.
"Our private health insurance reforms mean policies will be simplified and more easily understood so consumers get a clear picture on what is included in their policy," a spokesman for Health Minister Greg Hunt said.
We are happy with our doctors
NORTHERN Rivers residents have given local GPs their stamp of approval, with 93.7 per cent of locals saying their doctors treated them with respect.
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare data reveals 49 per cent of locals saw a dentist in the 2016-17 financial year and 86.2 per cent had a GP appointment.
About nine in 10 (90.6 per cent) of locals said their medical practitioner listened to their concerns and 91.8 per cent believed their GP spent enough time. - NewsRegional
BY THE NUMBERS
Northern Rivers health statistics:
Per cent adults who had dental treatment: 49
Per cent adults who saw a GP: 86.2
Per cent who did not fill a script due to cost: 6.8
Per cent who did not see GP due to cost: 3.2
Per cent who did not see dentist due to cost: 18
Per cent with private health insurance: 38.2
Per cent who felt their GP listened: 90.6
Per cent who felt their GP respected them: 93.7
Per cent who had enough time with GP: 91.8
Average out-of-pocket GP expenses: $8-$35
Source: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare