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Australia Invested Nearly $50 billion in Fighting COVID

‘Australia had the seventh lowest additional health spending out of 36 countries,’ AIHW spokesman Geoff Callaghan said.

Australia’s health system has spent nearly $50 billion on COVID-19, a new report has revealed, while the authorities warn of a “plunge” in vaccination rates and urge the public to close the gap.

A total of $47.9 billion (US$32 billion), or 7.2 percent of overall health spending was billed in the response to COVID-19 in Australia between 2019-20 and 2021-22, according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

Three-quarters ($35.1 billion) was contributed by the Australian government, and a quarter was contributed by state and territory governments ($11.9 billion).

$27.9 billion went to primary care, including public health spending on the vaccine rollout ($6.1 billion), and public hospitals ($10.5 billion).

Individuals spent an estimated $900 million on COVID-19-related health goods and services such as rapid antigen tests, personal protective equipment, and sanitisers.

‘Lowest Spending Out of 36 countries’

However, the $48 billion was only 2 percent in excess of the expectation based on the AIHW’s linear forecast of the preceding 10 years.

“This is referred to as ‘additional health spending’ … Australia had the seventh lowest additional health spending out of 36 countries,” AIHW spokesman Geoff Callaghan said.

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“Health spending spiked less sharply in Australia than in many other OECD countries during the first three years of the pandemic.”

Meanwhile, AIHW said Australia had one of the lowest global excess death rates, which compares actual deaths with the predicted number for the same period.

Based on the report, Australia’s total excess mortality rate during 2020–2022 was 4 percent, which was the fifth lowest outcome compared to 30 other countries.

 Areas of spending for COVID-19, Primary health care, 2019-20 to 2021-22 (Courtesy of AIHW)
Areas of spending for COVID-19, Primary health care, 2019-20 to 2021-22 (Courtesy of AIHW)

The figures come amid concerns over a major drop in COVID-19 vaccination rates.

A recent Grattan Institute report found that Australia’s COVID-19 vaccine rate has plummeted particularly among high-risk populations.

“In December 2021, more than 90 percent of high-risk adults had been vaccinated for COVID in the previous six months. Today, it is just 27 percent,” reads a statement by the Institute on Nov. 26.

Around 2.5 million people aged over 65 years were behind on their COVID vaccinations, an increase of two million people in a single year, according to the report.

“The consequences are deadly,” said report lead author and Grattan Institute Health Program Director Peter Breadon. “COVID is still with us, and it’s still causing more deaths and putting more people in hospital than the flu.”

The Institute called for a new National Vaccination Agreement between the federal government and for the states to set “ambitious targets” in driving up vaccination, which will include government advertising campaigns and more funding for immunisers to reach groups that missed out.

Over 5,000 Australians have died from COVID-19 since October 2022 and more than 1,200 people were in hospital at the end of this October.

Another AIHW report also released on Nov. 29 found that $150 billion—71.6 percent of recurrent health spending—was spent on specific disease groups in 2020-21.

Musculoskeletal disorders, such as back pain and osteoarthritis, accounted for the highest spending of all disease groups, totalling $14.7 billion (9.8 percent), while cancer and other neoplasms ($14.6 billion) and Cardiovascular diseases ($14.3 billion) ranked 2nd and 3rd highest.

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