Your tax dollars at work: where do we spend on health?


Which health disorder do we spend most on?

Answer: It’s not cancer.

Key Points


  • New Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) report tracks the national health system expenditure 2018-19. 

  • Report drills down into how $136 billion is spent on health. 

  • Condition, age, sex and type of health setting are itemised. 

Is that bad back costing you a lot? You’re not alone. It’s also costing the nation. More money was spent on musculoskeletal disorders, such as osteoarthritis and back pain, than any other disease, condition or injury in Australia. 

That’s the finding of a new report from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) that looks at how $136 billion was spent across the national health system in 2018–19. 

Australia’s total national health spending is actually $185 billion but data limitations restrict total transparency. 

The report provides analysis of where health spending is directed, in terms of the conditions and diseases that attract the spending, whether the spending occurs in, or outside hospitals and which age groups attract the most spending. 

Bad backs cost big bucks


The top four big spenders are, in order:

  • Musculoskeletal disorders attracted the most spending at $14 billion. 
  • Cardiovascular diseases ($11.8 billion). 
  • Cancer and other neoplasms ($11.8 billion). 
  • Mental and substance use disorders ($10.5 billion). 

Public Hospitals
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. 

Private hospitals
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). 

GPs, dentists, therapists etc.
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). 

Age-related spending
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. 

Men and women


Males - the bulk of spending occurs later in life. The highest expenditure condition group for males was cardiovascular diseases ($6.7 billion). 

Females - the highest expenditure condition group for females was reproductive and maternal ($8.7 billion).

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. 

The AIHW report accompanies the Australian Burden of Disease Study 2018. So, what ailments cause the community the most worry, difficulty and hard work? 

The report’s key findings are:  

  • Coronary heart disease. 

  • Back pain. 

  • Dementia. 

  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

  • Lung cancer. 

Read report