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More money is being spent on musculoskeletal disorders, such as osteoarthritis and back pain, than any other disease, condition or injury in Australia, according to a new report.

Disease expenditure in Australia 2018-19 is a report from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) which looks at how $136 billion was spent across the health system in 2018–19.

Analysis shows where health spending was directed in terms of conditions and diseases, whether the spending occurs in or outside hospitals and which age groups attract the most spending.

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Back-related injuries top the list

AIHW spokesperson Dr Adrian Webster said, ‘Overall, musculoskeletal disorders attracted the most spending at $14 billion, followed by cardiovascular diseases ($11.8 billion), cancer and other neoplasms ($11.8 billion), and mental and substance use disorders ($10.5 billion).’

For admitted patients in public hospitals, cardiovascular diseases accounted for $4.4 billion in spending, followed by injury and gastrointestinal disorders at $3.8 billion each.

In private hospitals, the disease groups with the highest spending were musculoskeletal disorders ($4.9 billion), cardiovascular diseases ($2.5 billion) and cancer and other neoplasms ($2.5 billion).

In primary health care settings, oral disorders accounted for $7.8 billion in spending, followed by mental and substance use disorders ($4.2 billion), and cancer and other neoplasms ($3.7 billion).

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Health costs for men and women diverge

Dr Webster said, ‘As we age, spending on our health generally increases – the highest spending was for those aged 70–74 and the lowest for those aged 5–9 years.

‘For males, the bulk of spending tends to occur later in life. However, spending for females between the ages of 20 to 45 is substantially higher than for males, largely due to spending on birth and reproduction related conditions.’

Key findings from the report provide insight into the conditions that place the greatest burden on the community. Coronary heart disease, back pain, dementia, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and lung cancer were the five diseases causing the most burden in 2018.

Further research will show changing trends in the relationships between disease burden, population ageing and health spending.