How do Australia's females access health care?

The Australian health system provides a wide range of preventive, treatment and palliative health care services. Monitoring people’s health needs, their help-seeking behaviours, and their patterns of health service use helps government and health service providers identify inequalities in access and predict future health care needs.


The Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) records information on medical services and tests subsidised by the Australian Government. People who reside in Australia and are Australian or New Zealand citizens or hold a permanent visa are eligible for Medicare enrolment.

In 2017–18, Australia’s females claimed over 240 million services through Medicare, and received an average of 19 Medicare services per person in that year. By comparison, males claimed 14 Medicare services per person (Department of Health 2018).


Medicare services claimed on average by females aged 75–84 in 2017–18

The average number of services claimed by females varies by age group. In 2017–18:

  • those aged under 45 claimed fewer than 12 services per person.
  • those aged 75 and over claimed more than 42 services per person.

Figure 7: Average number of Medicare services claimed, per person, females by age group, 2017–18 

This vertical bar chart shows the average number of Medicare services claimed tended to increase across the lifespan after an initial peak in the 0–4 age group. The greatest number of Medicare services were claimed by females aged 75–84.

Source: Department of Health 2018 (Table S7).

Primary health care

In Australia, primary health care is usually a person’s first encounter with the health system when they have a health concern. Primary health care broadly encompasses health care that is not related to a hospital visit.

9 in 10

females reported visiting a GP in the previous 12 months

In 2017–18, 89% of females aged 15 and over reported visiting their GP in the last 12 months (ABS 2018).

Barriers to accessing health services may impede the best possible health outcomes for women. In 2017–18, among females aged 15 and over (ABS 2018):

  • 0.5% reported not seeing a GP when they needed to in the previous 12 months
  • over 1 in 5 (21%) waited longer than they felt acceptable to get an appointment with a GP
  • over 1 in 20 (5.1%) delayed seeing, or did not see, a GP when needed due to cost reasons at least once in the past 12 months
  • about 1 in 12 (8.6%) delayed getting, or did not get prescribed medication, due to cost.

Of Australian women aged 45 years and over who had at least one GP visit in the 12 months between November 2014 and November 2015 (ABS 2017):

  • about 1 in 4 (26%) reported that they had spoken to their GP about their emotional and psychological health
  • almost half (49%) indicated that they received care from a health professional other than their GP or specialist doctor or nurse for their physical health (e.g. physiotherapist, podiatrist, dietitian)
  • more than 1 in 10 (11%) indicated that they received care from a health professional other than their GP or specialist doctor or nurse for their emotional or psychological health (e.g. psychologist, counsellor or social worker)
  • over 8 in 10 (84%) reported they were currently taking at least one medication on a regular and ongoing basis
  • Almost 8 in 10 (79%) indicated they were always or usually involved in making decisions about their medications for their own health.

Private health insurance

In Australia, private health insurance is available for those who wish to fully or partly cover the costs of being admitted to hospital as a private patient and/or the costs of other ancillary health services.

In 2017–18, 57% of females reported having some form of private health insurance  (ABS 2018). 46% had both hospital and extras cover, 6% had hospital only and 5% had extras only cover.

Admitted patient care

Admitted patient care refers to care provided by public and private hospitals to admitted patients. A hospitalisation is an episode of hospital care that starts with the formal admission process and ends with the formal separation process. 

In 2016–17, there were 5.8 million hospitalisations among females, accounting for 53% of all hospitalisations (AIHW 2018).

Hospitalisation rates generally increase with age, and are highest among women aged 85 and over.

Figure 8: Hospitalisation rate, females by age group, 2016–17

This vertical bar chart compares the hospitalisation rate for females across age groups in 2016–17. After an initial peak in the under 1 year age group, hospitalisations were lowest among those aged 5–14, then increased across the lifespan to a peak in females aged 85 and over.

Source: AIHW 2018 (Table S8).

Note: See boxes 1.1, 1.2 and appendixes A and B of Admitted patient care 2016–17: Australian hospital statistics for notes on data limitations and methods.

In 2013–14 to 2014–15, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander females experienced 73 potentially preventable hospitalisations per 1,000 population (compared to 66 for Indigenous males, after adjusting for differences in age-structure). The Indigenous female rate of potentially preventable hospitalisations was 3.1 times higher than for non-Indigenous females, after adjusting for differences in age-structure (AIHW 2017).