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Open Access Research article

Does Government subsidy for costs of medical and pharmaceutical services result in higher service utilization by older widowed women in Australia?

Leigh R Tooth1*, Richard Hockey1, Susan Treloar2, Christine McClintock2 and Annette Dobson2

Author Affiliations

1 School of Population Health, The University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia

2 Centre for Military and Veterans’ Health, The University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia

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BMC Health Services Research 2012, 12:179  doi:10.1186/1472-6963-12-179

Published: 27 June 2012



In Australia, Medicare, the national health insurance system which includes the Medical Benefits Scheme (MBS) and Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS), provides partial coverage for most medical services and pharmaceuticals. For war widows, the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA) covers almost the entire cost of their health care. The objective of this study was to test whether war widows have higher usage of medical services and pharmaceuticals.


Data were from 730 women aged 70–84 years (mostly World War II widows) participating in the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health who consented to data linkage to Medicare Australia. The main outcome measures were PBS costs, claims, co-payments and scripts presented, and MBS total costs, claims and gap payments for medical services in 2005.


There was no difference between the war widows and similarly aged widows in the Australian population without DVA support on use of medical services. While war widows had more pharmaceutical prescriptions filled they generated equivalent total costs, number of claims and co-payments for pharmaceuticals than widows without DVA support.


Older war widows are not using more medical services and pharmaceuticals than other older Australian women despite having financial incentives to do so.