No bones about it - costs are high for arthritis and musculoskeletal conditions in Australia

Arthritis and musculoskeletal conditions are a major cause of pain and disability among Australians, and with an estimated 6.1 million people having one or more of these conditions, the resulting expenditure on health services is substantial says a new report released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

The report, Health expenditure for arthritis and musculoskeletal conditions in Australia 2000-01, provides details of expenditure on five major forms of arthritis and musculoskeletal conditions: osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoporosis, chronic back pain, and slipped disc.

Report co-author Ms Tracy Dixon says the economic and personal burdens these conditions place on the community are high.

'Arthritis and musculoskeletal conditions are the third largest contributors to direct health expenditure in Australia, at $4.6 billion or 9.2% of total allocatable health expenditure in 2000-01,' Ms Dixon said.

Osteoarthritis accounted for 26% of the expenditure on arthritis and musculoskeletal conditions, at $1.2 billion. A further 12% was spent on chronic back pain and 6% on slipped disc. Rheumatoid arthritis and osteoporosis each accounted for around 5% of the expenditure. The remainder was spent on other musculoskeletal conditions such as gout and juvenile arthritis.

Report co-author Ms Elizabeth Penm says that although hospital services (for surgery or treatment of acute symptoms) accounted for a large component of the expenditure, out-of-hospital medical services, other professional services and pharmaceuticals were also large contributors to the expenditure.

'In most cases, management of arthritis and musculoskeletal conditions involves the general practitioner or specialist, physical and occupational therapists, and use of medications to relieve pain and reduce inflammation,' Ms Penm said.

On average, health expenditure (adjusted for inflation) on arthritis and musculoskeletal conditions increased by 4.3% annually between 1993-94 and 2000-01. This is a smaller rate of increase than the overall average annual increase in health expenditure in Australia over the same period.

'Because arthritis and musculoskeletal conditions become more common with age, the burden associated with them is likely to increase as the Australian population ages. This may lead to greater health expenditure on these conditions in the future,' Ms Dixon said.

4 August 2006

Further information: Ms Tracy Dixon, AIHW, tel. 02 6244 1103, mob. 0407 915 851.

For media copies of the report: Publications Officer, AIHW, tel. 61 2 6244 1032.