Australians worry most about electricity bills, health care

Survey findings follow an inquiry into electricity pricing and an average 4.8% increase in health insurance premiums

More than 80% of Australians are concerned about household electricity prices and the cost of private health insurance, new research shows.

The top concern for Australian households was a tie between rising electricity prices and health care, with 81% worried about each category, according to CHOICE's Consumer Pulse survey.

The findings follow the launch of an inquiry into retail electricity prices and a recent increase to health insurance premiums

Data from the survey reveals the two categories have been consumer pain points since March 2015.

Confidence in the Australian economy has rebounded from the low levels seen in December of 2016; however, this was largely driven by NSW and Victoria.

Other Australian states have a less than optimistic economic outlook.

Worrying electricity prices

South Australia was the state most concerned with the cost of household electricity prices (84% concerned), followed closely by Western Australia at 82%.

Apprehension over electricity prices in South Australia is owing to recent trouble with its power supply, says Alan Kirkland, the chief executive of CHOICE.

"Given South Australia endured numerous problems with their power supply, including a statewide blackout last year, it's little wonder that electricity is the top cause for concern.

"It's been a grim year for them when it comes to electricity, and with the Australian energy market operator forecasting more power shortages over the next two years, it's unlikely anxiety around energy and the associated costs will be reduced any time soon."

Alarmingly, 52% of South Australians say they're "very concerned" about household electricity, almost 20% higher than those in New South Wales.

The findings come after the federal government launched an inquiry into retail electricity providers. The inquiry will scrutinise the behaviour of electricity retailers and examine why competition hasn't resulted in lower prices. A final report will be due on 30 June 2018.

Rising healthcare premiums

Healthcare affordability tied with household electricity prices at 81% as the top worry of Australians.

The survey results follow an increase in private health insurance premiums of 4.8% on 1 April.

"Health insurance premiums increased again on Saturday, marking an almost 55% cumulative price increase on private health policies since 2009, making it a major cause for worry for Australian families," says chief executive Kirkland.

"This underlines the importance of health insurance reforms, delivering greater value and transparency, as a priority in Parliament."

Concern about health care was highest in Western Australia at 84%, compared to 74% in Victoria.

The economic outlook in Western Australia was also notably less optimistic than states situated along the eastern coastline, with 48% of households rating the economy as poor. This contrasts with 27% in New South Wales and 28% in Victoria.

"With the end of the mining boom, Western Australians are feeling very pessimistic about the economy, with half of those surveyed worried about them or their partner losing a job and almost two in five say they're planning to cut back spending on essential items," says Kirkland.

Overall rising costs

The majority of households at 85% believe bills and expenses have increased over the last 12 months. The sentiment has remained consistent for NSW households at 84% for the second year in a row, as the state fends off the prohibitive cost of housing.

Almost half of NSW homeowners at 47% identify with just 'getting by'. One in four are struggling on their current income, a finding that remains consistent with the July 2016 Consumer Pulse report.

Added to the growing concern of electricity and healthcare bills for 72% of NSW home owners is the cost of fuel, followed by 68% of them recognising the expense of food and groceries as a cause for concern.

Survey participants from NSW plan on making cuts under the household budget with 32% spending less on groceries, 27% saving money on mobile phone services and 23% claiming to cut back on the cost of internet.