High healthcare costs are keeping Aussies away from the doctor and the dentist and forcing many to borrow to meet them, new data shows.
One in five of us borrows to fund medical appointments, with many putting it all on credit or borrowing from family and friends, survey data from comparison site Finder shows.
On average, Australians borrow $1577 to meet their medical expenses, but 60 per cent of borrowers need less than $1000, suggesting some are borrowing serious figures.
Bessie Hassan, Money expert at Finder, told The New Daily that for some Aussies a line of credit was their only option for big expenses.
“The likelihood of having enough cash to cover the cost is slim for some people,” she said.
“As far as rainy day savings go, as a nation we’re not good at it.”
A big reason for this is the thin ice many Australians are skating on in daily life.
Past research from Ubank’s science of Spending and Saving Experiment found 35 per cent of Australians live payday to payday, and about one-quarter of Australians has less than $1000 in savings.
But Ms Hassan said there were serious problems with putting it all on credit, particularly for those that can’t make the payments.
“Credit card interest compounds over time, so if you were faced with another unexpected cost that you also put on credit, like urgent car repairs, this will add to your overall interest payable,” she said.
Australia’s total credit balance has now reached a record high of almost $145.55 billion as of June 2015.
This averages to a balance of $9048 for each of the 16.09 million credit cards currently in circulation.
Professor Anthony Scott, head of the Health Economics Research Program at the Melbourne Institute, told The New Daily it was clear high healthcare costs were too much to bear for many Australians.
“It’s concerning because I think in a modern healthcare system this shouldn’t happen,” he said.
“It’s people’s choice to (borrow) but the issue is whether they can pay that off or if they’re getting deeper into debt.”
A 2018 review of Australians’ credit card use by ASIC found more than one in six consumers was struggling with credit card debt.
In June 2017, there were almost 550,000 people in arrears, 930,000 more with persistent debt and an additional 435,000 people repeatedly repaying small amounts.
All this accumulates through compound interest, something that could be all the worse for people putting it on credit cards, which typically carried significantly higher rates of interest than personal loans, Ms Hassan said.
“You do have options out there. There are things like personal loans, which have typically a lower interest rate around 12 per cent, whereas credit cards are 17 per cent on average,” she said.
However, financing options like Good Shepherd Microfinance also offer low interest and no interest loans for some borrowers.
The University of Melbourne’s Professor Scott said many put off treatment, particularly dental care, due to high costs.
“You might think – in other countries where doctors are paid differently, people might not have to travel abroad to get dental care,” he said.
“People can’t plan for medical emergencies and so when you can’t plan for something you like to insure against it, but the public and private health systems aren’t covering the high cost.”
Finder research found Australians were most likely to put off visits to the dentist, at one in four, but 6 per cent put off specialist appointments and 3 per cent surgery suggesting the issue runs deeper.
But Professor Scott says if doctors and dentists were more transparent about their fees, people might be able to avoid a post-appointment bill shock.
“Doctors should be providing upfront quotes – that’s some way that people can get transparency about the full cost to them,” he said.
“But when you’re a patient and you’re sick, the concept of choice and transparency goes out the window.”