Blog post: Hip Pocket Pain Campaign strikes a nerve - Mark Metherell

This blog post in brief

Mark Metherell, the Consumers Health Forum's Communication Manager, provides a behind-the-scenes look at the out of pocket cost campaign that was recently launched by CHF. In this blog post, Mark discusses the reasons for the campaign, the massive amount of interest that was generated and the giant strides that were made to raise awareness of the out of pocket costs endured by consumers.

Hip Pocket Pain Campaign strikes a nerve

Our “Hip Pocket Pain” campaign drew nationwide attention, and underlined a striking feature about the reality of price and pain in Australia.

It is this: every day many thousands of Australians suffer a double affliction --- a combination of serious illness and the struggle to find the money to obtain the necessary treatment.

Yet their plight gets scant attention.

You would think that such a state of affairs would spur more community protest and effective counter-measures, but the gap between treatment costs and people’s ability to pay appears to be widening.

The average healthy Australian may grumble about the odd high dentist or specialist fee but get on with life, complacent in the belief that our health system is pretty equitable.

For others, including the chronically ill and the elderly, there is likely to be much greater disenchantment.

The CHF campaign sought to convey the challenging reality that many face.

What got much media airplay was the lived experience of consumers and patients like Robert Pask, and Leonie Havnen, who joined the CHF campaign to highlight heavy price they pay because of their chronic conditions.

We cited the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare figures which show the average personal cost of health to Australians is more than $1,000 a year. And there are significant numbers who must pay much more, such as Australians aged over 65 who pay on average $1,200 in gap costs a year if they are insured and undergo a private hospital stay.

The presentation of statistics revealing the burden such patients face generated scores of media interview requests for our chair, Karen Carey, and CEO, Carol Bennett. TV, press, radio and online reporters were often intrigued and astonished by the figures showing that Australia is in the top five nations in terms of direct payments by individuals for health services and products.

Public reaction ranged from outrage to criticism of the heavy gaps for specialist treatment. There were queries about the fate of Australia’s “universal” health system. There were also hints of a knowledge gap between those who have experienced the physical and financial pain of chronic illness and others who have not.

Carol Bennett’s article published online in Fairfax Media’s National Times provoked a lively debate among readers about the worth of Australia’s mixed public-private health system, doctor’s gap costs, and the shortcomings of universal health.

With concerns about how Australia will afford to maintain world-best health care in the future, productive debate about how we achieve this can not come soon enough.

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About the author

Mark Metherell

Mark Metherell joined the Consumers Health Forum of Australia as Communications Manager in February 2013. Previously he was the Canberra based health correspondent for the Sydney Morning Herald, a position he held since 1999. He was also medical reporter for the Age in the 1980s. In a newspaper career spanning 40 years, he has held a variety of other posts including news editor and defence and foreign affairs correspondent.