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1.  The geographic distribution of private health insurance in Australia in 2001 
Private health insurance has been a major focus of Commonwealth Government health policy for the last decade. Over this period, the Howard government introduced a number of policy changes which impacted on the take up of private health insurance. The most expensive of these was the introduction of the private health insurance rebate in 1997, which had an estimated cost of $3 billion per annum.
This article uses information on the geographic distribution of the population with private health insurance cover to identify associations between rates of private health insurance cover and socioeconomic status. The geographic analysis is repeated with survey data on expenditure on private health insurance, to provide an estimate of the rebate flowing to different socioeconomic groups.
The analysis highlights the strong association between high rates of private health insurance cover and high socioeconomic status and shows the substantial transfer of funds, under the private health insurance rebate, to those living in areas of highest socioeconomic status, compared with those in areas of lower socioeconomic status, and in particular those in the most disadvantaged areas. The article also provides estimates of private health insurance cover by federal electorate, emphasising the substantial gaps in cover between Liberal Party and Australian Labor Party seats.
The article concludes by discussing implications of the uneven distribution of private health insurance cover across Australia for policy formation. In particular, the study shows that the prevalence of private health insurance is unevenly distributed across Australia, with marked differences in prevalence in rural and urban areas, and substantial differences by socioeconomic status. Policy formation needs to take this into account. Evaluating the potential impact of changes in private health insurance requires more nuanced consideration than has been implied in the rhetoric about private health insurance over the last decade.
PMCID: PMC3224949  PMID: 19686590
2.  The socioeconomic gradient and chronic illness and associated risk factors in Australia 
To examine the prevalence of major chronic diseases and their risk factors in different socioeconomic groups in the Australian population, in order to highlight the need for public policy initiatives to reduce socioeconomic inequalities in health.
Data were provided by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) from the 2001 National Health Survey (NHS) for selected chronic diseases and associated risk factors. Conditions selected were those, which form the National Health Priority Area (NHPA) conditions (other than injury, which has not been included in this paper, with its focus on chronic disease); plus other 'serious' chronic conditions, in line with the classification developed by Mathers; and for which sufficient cases were available for analysis by socioeconomic status. Indirectly age-standardised prevalence rates were calculated by broad age group for Australia and for five groups of socioeconomic status; rate ratios were calculated to show variations in prevalence between these groups.
Significant socioeconomic inequalities were evident for many of the major chronic diseases; the largest was for diabetes mellitus (at ages 25 to 64 years); and for many diseases, there was also a strong, continuous socioeconomic gradient in the rates.
Circulatory system diseases (in particular, hypertensive disease) and digestive system diseases also exhibited a strong differential in the 25 to 64 year age group.
In the 65 years and over age group, the strongest inequalities were evident for mental and behavioural problems, diabetes (with a continuous socioeconomic gradient in rates) and respiratory system diseases.
A number of risk factors for chronic diseases, namely self-reported smoking, alcohol misuse, physical inactivity and excess weight showed a striking association with socioeconomic status, in particular for people who were smokers and those who did not exercise.
This analysis shows that the prevalence of chronic disease varies across the socioeconomic gradient for a number of specific diseases, as well as for important disease risk factors. Therefore, any policy interventions to address the impact of chronic disease, at a population level, need to take into account these socioeconomic inequalities.
PMCID: PMC546403  PMID: 15679942
3.  Unpacking analyses relying on area-based data: are the assumptions supportable? 
In the absence in the major Australian administrative health record collections of a direct measure of the socioeconomic status of the individual about whom the event is recorded, analysis of the association between the health status, use of health services and socioeconomic status of the population relies an area-based measure of socioeconomic status.
This paper explores the reliability of the area of address (at the levels typically available in administrative data collections) as a proxy measure for socioeconomic disadvantage. The Western Australian Data Linkage System was used to show the extent to which hospital inpatient separation rates for residents of Perth vary by socioeconomic status of area of residence, when calculated at various levels of aggregation of area, from smallest (Census Collection District) to largest (postcode areas and Statistical Local Areas). Results are also provided of the reliability, over time, of the address as a measure of socioeconomic status.
There is a strong association between the socioeconomic status of the usual address of hospital inpatients at the smallest level in Perth, and weaker associations when the data are aggregated to larger areas. The analysis also shows that a higher proportion of people from the most disadvantaged areas are admitted to hospital than from the most well-off areas (13% more), and that these areas have more separations overall (47% more), as a result of larger numbers of multiple admissions.
Of people admitted to hospital more than once in a five year period, four out of five had not moved address by the time of their second episode. Of those who moved, the most movement was within, or between, areas of similar socioeconomic status, with people from the most well off areas being the least likely to have moved.
Postcode level and SLA level data provide a reliable, although understated, indication of socioeconomic disadvantage of area. The majority of Perth residents admitted to hospital in Western Australia had the same address when admitted again within five years. Of those who moved address, the majority had moved within, or between, areas of similar socioeconomic status.
Access to data about individuals from the Western Australian Data Linkage System shows that more people from disadvantaged areas are admitted to a hospital, and that they have more episodes of hospitalisation. Were data to be available across Australia on a similar basis, it would be possible to undertake research of greater policy-relevance than is currently possible with the existing separations-based national database.
PMCID: PMC543455  PMID: 15588302

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