The often stark divide between the "haves and have nots" has been highlighted in new research showing the poorest 10 million Australians are far more likely to die of preventable illnesses, while many of the country's most affluent are more likely to engage in risky drinking.
A report from the Australian Health Policy Collaboration at Victoria University has shown that a huge proportion of the population is at high risk of dying early from chronic diseases and other often-preventable conditions.
These most disadvantaged Australians (representing 4 in every 10 people) are almost three times more likely to die of diabetes, almost 40 per cent more likely to die of cancer and more than twice are likely to die of respiratory or cardiovascular disease, compared to richer sections of the population.
Over four years 81,400 people in the poorest 40 per cent of the nation died as a result of chronic disease, cancer and suicide, in comparison to 50,500 in the most affluent 40 per cent.
Those living in disadvantaged communities are more likely to be living on a low income (sometimes less than $21,000), to work as labourers, to have poor English skills and not to have home internet.
"Being socially and economically disadvantaged is not only bad for your health - it's also much more likely to kill you," Australian Health Policy Collaboration director Rosemary Calder said.
"Our report shows not everyone has a fair go at living a long, healthy and prosperous life."
While the richer were generally healthier, there were some areas in which they did not perform as well.
The most advantaged Australians, likely to be earning more than $80,000 a year, had the highest rate of risky drinking - close to 20 per cent.
Experts say the results represent a crisis of prevention.
Adjunct Associate Professor Craig Sinclair, head of prevention at Cancer Council Victoria, said only 1.3 per cent of health expenditure went to prevention. He called for the funding to be increased to at least 5 per cent.
"At a time when we know investments of this type can be effective in reducing the burden of disease, we can only expect that this situation is only going to get worse," Mr Sinclair said.
"There is a tsunami of health problems coming our way and nobody seems prepared for it."
Professor Sinclair said while smoking rates were declining, obesity had already emerged as a great new threat, which also disproportionally affected the poor.
About 33 per cent of people in Australia's most disadvantaged communities are obese, compared to about 21 per cent in Australia's most advantaged groups.
Professor Calder said Australia's universal healthcare system provided a safety net through bulk billing GPs, emergency care in public hospitals and urgent surgery, but this was not adequate preventive care for lower income people at high risk of chronic disease.
She said the cost of healthcare meant some were missing out.
"It is well documented that a proportion of people do not have their scripts filled when they have seen a GP and that's attributable to financial pressures amongst others," Professor Calder said.
A spokesman for Health Minister Greg Hunt said the federal government provided significant funding for the prevention and treatment of many chronic conditions.
"Only last week we announced a record $24 million to support landmark research into cardiovascular disease for better treatments and prevention - this is National Health and Medical Research Council's third largest grant ever provided for medical research," he said.