Health spending rises not unique to Australia says OECD

Most OECD countries, including Australia, are facing rising demand for health spending, according to a new OECD report released worldwide today.

This has compelled governments to find new funds or pass a larger share of health costs onto individuals. Nations have also tried to contain costs, most typically in the hospital sector.

The report, Health at a Glance-OECD Indicators 2003, is the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development's second biennial report comparing key health data across its 30 member countries. Australian data for the report were supplied by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

The report ranked Australia 10th in terms of health spending as a proportion of gross domestic product in 2001.

According to the OECD, the main drivers of health expenditure in developed countries are the development and diffusion of new medical technologies and drugs. This is shown by:

  • a surge in use of medical diagnostic technologies such as computerised tomography (CT) scanners and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanners
  • rapid growth in surgical procedures such as cataract surgery, and knee and hip replacements
  • rises in expensive medical procedures such as coronary artery bypass graft (CABG) surgery and coronary angioplasty over the 1990s.

Cost containment measures in the hospital sector, combined with more ambulatory and same-day surgical procedures, have led to a drop in the number of hospital beds in nearly all OECD nations, and sharp reductions in average lengths of stay in hospitals.

The OECD average length of stay for acute care of 6.9 days in 2000 was above Australia's average of 6.1 days. In 1985 the OECD average was 9.6 days.

Gains in life expectancy have been notable in OECD countries over the last four decades. Australians gained an average 8.4 years in life expectancy between 1960 and 2000 (to 82 years for women and 77 years for men). We were in the top 8 nations for both men and women.

Australia also rated well in the proportion of people aged 65 or over reporting good health -66% for men, 67% for women in 2001.

Australia is among the world's leaders in reduced tobacco consumption, with 20% of adults smoking daily. Many European countries, and Japan and Korea, have rates of 30% or more.

In contrast, Australia had the fourth highest adult obesity rates (21%) behind the UK (22%), Mexico (24%) and the USA (31%). The lowest rates were just over 3%, in Japan and Korea.


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