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 2015–16, Australia’s females claimed over 220 million services through Medicare, and received an average of 18 Medicare services per person in that year. By comparison, males claimed 13 Medicare services per person [1].

41 Medicare services claimed on average by females aged 75–84 in 2014–15.

The average number of services claimed by females varies by age group. In 2014–15:

  • those aged under 45, claimed less than 18 services per person.
  • those aged 75 and over, claimed more than 37 services per person.

Figure 7: Average number of Medicare services claimed, per person, females by age group, 2014–15 

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: [1] (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 2014–15, 89% of females (all ages) reported visiting their GP in the last 12 months [2]. An estimated 5.6% of females did not consult a health professional in the last 12 months, compared with 11% of males.

Barriers to accessing health services may impede the best possible health outcomes for women. In 2015–16, among females aged 15 and over [3]:

  • 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 (5.2%) delayed seeing, or did not see, a GP when needed due to cost reasons at least once in the past 12 months
  • almost 1 in 10 (9.0%) delayed getting, or did not get prescribed medication, due to cost.

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 2015–16, 59% of females reported having some form of private health insurance compared with 56% of males [3]. 48% of females had both hospitals 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 2015–16, there were 5.6 million hospitalisations among females, accounting for 53% of all hospitalisations [4].

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

Figure 8: Hospitalisation rate, females by age group, 2015–16

This vertical bar chart compares the hospitalisation rate for females across age groups in 2015–16. After an initial peak in the <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: Admitted patient care 2015–16 [4] (Table S8).

Note: See boxes 1.1, 1.2 and appendixes A and B of Admitted patient care 2015–16 for notes on data limitations and methods.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander females experience higher rates of potentially preventable hospital admission. In 2013–14 to 2014–15, they were nearly 3.1 times as likely to have a potentially preventable hospitalisation as non-Indigenous females, after adjusting for differences in age-structure [5].


  1. Department of Health 2016. Annual Medicare Statistics – Financial Year 1984–85 to 2015–16. Canberra: Department of Health.
  2. Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) 2017. Health Service Usage and Health Related Actions, Australia, 2014–15. ABS cat. no. 4364.0.55.002. Canberra: ABS.
  3. ABS 2016. Patient Experiences in Australia: Summary of findings, 2015–16. ABS cat. no. 4839.0. Canberra: ABS.
  4. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) 2017. Admitted patient care 2015–16: Australian hospital statistics. Health services series no. 75. Cat. no. HSE 185. Canberra: AIHW.
  5. AIHW 2017. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health performance framework 2017 report: data tables.