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The cost of poorly controlled asthma to Australia's health system

The cost of poorly controlled asthma to Australia's health system

Monday, May 08, 2023

The costs to the health system for each Australian with uncontrolled asthma is more than $4,600 every year. That’s in addition to substantial medical costs borne by the patients themselves. 

The findings, revealed in a recent study by the Woolcock Institute of Medical Research, were based on 341 participants recruited through community pharmacies in New South Wales, Tasmania, and Western Australia.

They are based on real data from Medicare and the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (meaning the researchers have calculated the actual cost to the health system) and have allowed researchers to pinpoint the key issues that need to be addressed if we are to save lives and reduce the burden of poorly controlled asthma on our health system. 

Professor Carol Armour, Executive Director of the Woolcock, says that asthma, while reasonably common, is a controllable disease which is often not managed as well as it could be. 

“A lot of people in Australia and throughout the world do not have their asthma under control,” she says.

In Australia, 2.5 million people have asthma (about 11% of the population). The prevalence of poorly controlled asthma remains high despite improved treatment and management strategies. It has been documented that approximately half the people living with asthma do not have it under control.

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Uncontrolled asthma is often characterised by the frequency of symptoms with chest tightness, shortness of breath, coughing and wheezing experienced regularly and, for some, daily.  

Asthma, a major cause of disease burden and one of the top-ranked causes of disability worldwide, has been steadily rising over the last decade. Researchers estimate that 400 million people will have asthma by 2025, up from approximately 358 million cases (and 400,000 deaths) in 2015. 

The healthcare expenditure associated with asthma in Australia was estimated at approximately $AU1.2 billion in 2015. 

Professor Armour says the cost – which is incurred through more GP and specialist visits, laboratory tests and imaging as well as prescription medications -- can be reduced if more focus is placed on public education.  

“People with poorly controlled asthma need to try different medications, need to take their medication more regularly, or need to have their technique checked so that they actually receive enough medication,” Professor Armour says.

She adds that certain groups of people are more at risk than others, and that they are costing the health system more.  This includes people who are socially disadvantaged, have been diagnosed with depression or anxiety and are older. 

“The time to act is now. We have a highly prevalent disease that’s costing the health system a lot, and we need programs to help people get their asthma under control,” Professor Armour says. 

This study was a collaboration between the Woolcock Institute of Medical Research and the George Institute.

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