$48 billion health system response to COVID-19 in Australia

Australia spent almost $48 billion on the health system response to COVID-19 from 2019-20 to 2021-22, according to a new report from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW). 

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) today released Health system spending on the response to COVID–19 in Australia 2019–20 to 2021–22.

‘Health spending spiked less sharply in Australia than in many other Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries during the first 3 years of the pandemic. Australia also had one of the lowest excess death rates compared to other countries,’ said AIHW spokesperson Geoff Callagan.

‘From 2019-20 to 2021-22, total estimated health spending on the response to COVID-19 in Australia represented 7.2% of total health spending, or $47.9 billion.

‘Australia’s health spending from 2020 to 2022 was 7% higher than expected, based on a linear forecast of the ten years preceding COVID–19. This is referred to as ‘additional health spending'. Australia had the 8th lowest additional health spending out of 36 countries.’

Excess mortality compares the number of deaths recorded for a period against the expected number of deaths over the same period.

Australia’s total excess mortality from 2020 to 2022 was 4% higher than the expected mortality. This was the 5th lowest excess mortality rate compared to 30 other countries. 

The Australian Government spent an estimated $35.1 billion and states and territories an estimated $11.9 billion on the health system response to COVID-19. Governments spent $27.9 billion on primary care - including $6.1 billion on the vaccine rollout - and $10.5 billion on public hospitals.

Individual Australians spent an estimated $878 million on COVID-19-related services and items, such as rapid antigen tests ($597 million), personal protective equipment and respirators ($224 million), sanitiser ($56 million), prescription medications for COVID-19 treatment ($1.3 million) and out-of-pocket spending on general practitioner services related to COVID-19 ($0.1 million). 

A second report, Health system spending on disease and injury in Australian 2020-21 was also released today. 

In 2020–21, an estimated $150 billion (72% of total recurrent health spending) could be attributed to specific disease groups.

Musculoskeletal disorders (including osteoarthritis and back pain) accounted for the highest spending of all disease groups with $14.7 billion spent in 2020–21, followed by cancers ($14.6 billion) and cardiovascular diseases ($14.3 billion). Combined, these three disease groups represented 29% of total spending.

Musculoskeletal disorders, cancers and cardiovascular diseases have consistently been the top three in terms of spending over the decade to 2020-21, (2011-12 being the first year for which estimates commenced). Of these three disease groups, health system spending on cancers has grown the most, doubling from $7.3 billion to $14.6 billion (based on current prices).

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