Older New Zealanders are in better health than their counterparts in ten other countries, however they are more likely to forgo healthcare due to the cost.

The findings come from an international study comparing the challenges faced by older people in 11 countries: Australia, Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The 2017 Commonwealth Fund International Health Policy Survey of Older Adults asked more than 24,000 people aged 65 and over about their views and experiences of their healthcare system.

Across the 11 countries, at least one of eight older adults reported having three or more chronic conditions, with rates ranging from a high of 36 per cent in the US to a low of 13 per cent in New Zealand. Just under a quarter (24 per cent) of older New Zealanders have ‘high needs’, the lowest proportion along with Norway and Switzerland; at the other end, 43 per cent of US seniors have high needs.

Older Kiwis don’t have to wait long to be seen by a doctor. Only seven per cent had to wait six days or more for an appointment – this was the lowest of all the countries measured. Over a third of older Germans have to wait more than six days.

At these visits, fifty per cent of older New Zealanders (along with Australia, US, France and Switzerland) said their doctors discussed falls prevention with them. However, all countries were poor at discussing other aspects of health promotion such as diet, exercise and mental health. This was one of the key findings of the survey.

Less than 10 per cent of older people from seven countries, including New Zealand, experienced economic vulnerability, compared to a massive 25 per cent of seniors from the US.

However, 11 per cent of older New Zealanders had to forgo healthcare due to its cost. Only Switzerland, Australia and the US were higher – the US significantly so at 23 per cent. Much smaller percentages of older people from Sweden, Norway and the UK reported problems accessing healthcare due to cost.

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Health says the Ministry is committed to reducing cost-related barriers to healthcare services. The Ministry monitors this issue through the New Zealand Health Survey.

The Ministry has a number of planned initiatives to reduce the cost-related barriers to health services for older people, including a proposal to lower the cost of GP visits by $10 and introducing an annual health check for seniors as part of the SuperGold card entitlement.

There are also a number of initiatives underway to improve the health of older people into and throughout their later years, including the Healthy Ageing Strategy, which aligns with the new New Zealand Health Strategy 2016 and takes the view that older people should ‘live well, age well, and have a respectful end of life in age-friendly communities’.

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