[Brisbane, Australia] Arthritis Australia has reinforced that the current cost of living crisis may quickly become a significant health crisis for many living with chronic diseases, like arthritis, that will have long-term impacts on their disease trajectory and quality of life.
Attending the Senate Select Committee Cost of Living Inquiry in Brisbane today, Arthritis Australia has reinforced that Australians under financial distress and also living with arthritis and related conditions are not just having to battle to keep food on the table – they are having to prioritise how they manage their condition – with many delaying or not receiving the care they need.
The situation is being exacerbated with grassroots community organisations providing crucial services and support now in their own battles to stay afloat – with funding and donations drying up rapidly.
“We are in tough, expensive, and isolating times for people living with arthritis. It’s critical we don’t just focus on the financial distress, but also consider the significant health impacts,” states Jonathan Smithers, CEO, Arthritis Australia.
“People are making extremely difficult decisions about what treatments they can afford, which is further impacting their already poor quality of life. Many are already on lower incomes or unable to work due to their condition, and the combined cost of all their treatments and appointments are pushing this burdened community to the edge,” he adds.
“We strongly welcome measures implemented by the Government to reduce the cost of medicines and boost bulk billing for GP appointments, which are starting to make an impact. But there is more that needs to be done.”
Currently, over 3.6 million Australians of all ages are living with arthritis. Arthritis Australia and its affiliates are witnessing an increase in those facing financial distress, withdrawing from programs and delaying or not receiving the care they need. Some people are choosing not to? pursue specialist referrals due to the cost.
Out-of-pocket costs for healthcare with arthritis are high – from specialist fees to medicines, imaging and allied health appointments, through to surgery. There are also costs for travel to appointments, parking, time off work and childcare. A recent study of younger people living with arthritis in Australia found a median per person out-of-pocket expenditure of $1,635 in just six weeks.
A recent Arthritis Australia poll of people living with fibromyalgia (334 responses) found two out of three (67%) respondents had cut back on treatments to pay for basic living expenses, including much-needed physiotherapy and medical appointments. Half (50%) had cut back on other living expenses to afford healthcare costs.
Those in the community that are of particular concern include – women on lower incomes, CALD communities, refugees who don’t receive any state-funded health support, and people who can’t get onto the NDIS, either because they don’t meet eligibility requirements or cannot navigate the system.
At the same time, the impact of the cost of living on community organisations delivering vital information and support has also been severe, with some facing major challenges to their ongoing viability. There have been significant increases in staffing and other operating costs like rent, while donations have fallen. Funding from state and territory governments hasn’t risen along with costs, and short-term grant funding can mean that services have to be withdrawn when the funding runs out.
“We need more secure and longer-term funding to allow community organisations to continue supporting those in need, including helping them navigate the health, welfare, and NDIS systems,” said Mr Smithers.
Arthritis Australia has called for the government to develop a comprehensive plan to reduce out-of-pocket costs for people with chronic illnesses, including funding to increase the rheumatology workforce and access to public clinics and improve affordability of allied health by increasing the number of allied health services available under Medicare Chronic Disease Management Plan items.
About Arthritis Australia
Arthritis Australia is the peak national body for arthritis, advocating on behalf of over 3.6 million Australians living with arthritis, and working with many other arthritis organisations to deliver information and support to people living with more than 100 types of arthritis and musculoskeletal conditions. We are a leading non-government funder of arthritis research in Australia and advocate for policies, programs and funding initiatives that will improve the health and wellbeing of people living with arthritis.
For more information visit: arthritisaustralia.com.au
The ‘Cost of Living and Fibromyalgia’ online survey ran 13 - 15 September 2023.
The poll among Australians living with fibromyalgia (n=334) reveals half (50%) are cutting back on basics - food, toiletries, clothing, school supplies, petrol, and power - to pay for critical healthcare, including specialist appointments, physiotherapy and medication.
Two-thirds (67%) report they cannot afford many of the health appointments and the medications they need. Of these, 83% have stopped using allied health support or are reducing the number of visits; 48% have cut back on seeing their specialist; 37% on GP appointments; and 28% on medications.
334 people living with fibromyalgia reported cutting back on expenses including: food (less fresh food and meat, more no-name brands and tinned foods, no take-aways); cleaning products; beauty / toiletries; home / car maintenance; pet care (vet); entertainment (dinners / coffees with friends, movies, streaming services, technology); petrol, public transport; holidays; accommodation costs (selling home, moving to a granny flat); utilities (delaying power bills, using less heating / hot water); clothing (nothing new, more second-hand); school supplies / clothing; gifts for grandchildren; and ‘nice-to-haves’ / treats. Other reported health cuts included: psychology, osteopathy, naturopathy, acupuncture, hydrotherapy, supplements, assistive aids.
For further information, please contact:
Anne-Marie Sparrow on 0417 421 560.
Available for interview: Jonathan Smithers, CEO, Arthritis Australia