Recent estimates of the out-of-pocket expenditure on health care in Australia

Farhat Yusuf*, Stephen Leeder

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)
5 Downloads (Pure)


Objective: The aims of this study were to estimate the average annual out-of-pocket (OOP) expenditure on health care by households in Australia in 2015-16, and to compare this with the estimate for 2009-10. 

Methods: Data from the most recent Household Expenditure Survey (HES) conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics were used. Various statistical methods were used to estimate the annual OOP expenditures at the household and national levels.

Results: The average annual OOP expenditure was A$4290 per household, representing 5.8% of the amount spent on all goods and services. Private health insurance (PHI) premiums, although not a direct expenditure on health care, were 40.6% of the total OOP expenses. Of the remaining 59.4%, nearly half was spent on doctors and other health professionals, and approximately one-third was spent on medicines. Dental treatments and specialist consultations were the most expensive, whereas visits to general practitioners incurred the least OOP expenditure. Households with PHI (58.6%) spent fourfold more on health care than those not insured. Compared with the 2009-10 survey, the biggest increases were in the cost of PHI (50.7%) and copayments to specialists (34.8%) and other health professionals (42.0%).

Conclusions: OOP expenditure on health care as a proportion of the total household expenditure on all goods and services has increased by more than 25% between 2009-10 and 2015-16.

What is known about the topic?: Australian households incur OOP expenses for health care in Australia for a wide range of goods and services, such as copayments to doctors and other health professionals beyond the Medicare rebates, the cost of medicines and other pharmaceutical goods not covered entirely by the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme and PHI premiums. Although other estimates of OOP expenditure are available in official reports of the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, they are based on administrative records rather than consumer reports, and cannot be disaggregated by item or the characteristics of households.

What does this paper add?: This paper provides detailed information on OOP expenditure on health care as reported by a probability sample of households interviewed for the HES conducted by the ABS during 2015-16. These estimates of OOP expenditure, based on consumer reports, add a further dimension to the information available from administrative records only.

What are the implications for practitioners?: Practitioners should take account of the effect of increasing copayments for their services, especially on patients belonging to the lower socioeconomic categories. Increasing copayments may lead to people foregoing medical care. Health planners and politicians should note the steady upward drift in OOP expenses and factor these into their policies for future funding of health care.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)340-346
Number of pages7
JournalAustralian Health Review
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2020

Bibliographical note

Copyright © 2020 AHHA. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


  • Copayments
  • Medical care and health
  • Private health insurance


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