Universal Health Coverage for Non-communicable Diseases and Health Equity: Lessons From Australian Primary Healthcare

Matt Fisher, Toby Freeman, Tamara Mackean, Sharon Friel, Fran Baum

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Universal health coverage (UHC) is central to current international debate on health policy. The primary healthcare (PHC) system is crucial to achieving UHC, in order to address the rising incidence of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) more effectively and equitably. In this paper, we examine the Australian case as a mature system of UHC and identify lessons for UHC policy to support equity of access to PHC and reduce NCDs.

Our qualitative research used policy mapping and monitoring and 30 key informant interviews, and applied policy theory, to investigate the implementation of Australian PHC policy between 2008 and 2018.

Although the Australian PHC system does support equity of access to primary medical care, other ideational, actor-centred and structural features of policy detract from the capacities of the system to prevent and manage NCDs effectively, deliver equity of access according to need, and support equity in health outcomes. These features include a dominant focus on episodic primary medical care, which is a poor model of care for NCDs, and an inequitable distribution of these services. Also, a mixed system of public and private insurance coverage in PHC contributes to inequities in access and health outcomes, driving additional NCD demand into the health system.

Countries aiming to achieve UHC to support health equity and reduce NCDs can learn from strengths and weaknesses in the Australian system. We recommend a range of ideational, actor-centred and structural features of UHC systems in PHC that will support effective action on NCDs, equity of access to care according to need, and equity in health outcomes across geographically and ethnically diverse populations.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)690-700
Number of pages11
JournalInternational Journal of Health Policy and Management
Issue number5
Early online date23 Nov 2020
Publication statusPublished - May 2022


  • Australia
  • Universal Health Coverage
  • Primary Healthcare
  • Non-communicable Disease
  • Health Equity


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