In Australia there is a socioeconomic gradient in morbidity and mortality favouring socioeconomically advantaged people, much of which is accounted for by ischaemic heart disease. This study examines if Australia's universal health care system, with its mixed public/private funding and delivery model, may actually perpetuate this inequity. We do this by quantifying and comparing socioeconomic inequalities in the receipt of coronary procedures in patients with acute myocardial infarction (AMI) and patients with angina.
Using linked hospital and mortality data, we followed patients admitted to Western Australian hospitals with a first admission for AMI (n = 5539) or angina (n = 7401) in 2001-2003. An outcome event was the receipt, within a year, of a coronary procedure—angiography, angioplasty and/or coronary artery bypass surgery (CABG). Socioeconomic status was assigned to each individual using an area-based measure, the SEIFA Index of Disadvantage. Multivariable proportional hazards regression was used to model the association between socioeconomic status and procedure rates, allowing for censoring and adjustment of multiple covariates. Mediating models examined the effect of private health insurance.
In the AMI patient cohort, socioeconomic gradients were not evident except that disadvantaged women were more likely than advantaged women to undergo CABG. In contrast, in the angina patient group there were clear socioeconomic gradients for all procedures, favouring more advantaged patients. Compared with patients in the most disadvantaged quintile of socioeconomic status, patients in the least disadvantaged quintile were 11% (1-21%) more likely to receive angiography, 52% (29-80%) more likely to undergo angioplasty and 30% (3-55%) more likely to undergo CABG. Private health insurance explained some of the socioeconomic variation in rates.
Australia's universal health care system does not guarantee equity in the receipt of high technology health care for patients with ischaemic heart disease. While such a system might ensure equity for patients with AMI, where guidelines for treatment are relatively well established, this is not the case for angina patients, where health care may be less urgent and more discretionary.