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Supplements' 'smart role' underlined as report reveals sorry state of Australia's preventive health spending

By Gary Scattergood+

15-Jun-2017
Last updated on 15-Jun-2017 at 16:50 GMT2017-06-15T16:50:28Z

Supplements are highly cost effective, says CMA. ©iStock
Supplements are highly cost effective, says CMA. ©iStock

Trade body Complementary Medicines Australia (CMA) has backed a new report into preventive health, which details how the country is lagging behind fellow OECD nations Canada, New Zealand and the United Kingdom.

The report - Preventive Health: How much does Australia spend and is it enough? - was produced by La Trobe University’s Department of Public Health and co-funded by the Heart Foundation, Kidney Australia, Alzheimer’s Australia, the Australia Health Promotion Association and the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education.

It found that treating chronic disease costs Australia an estimated $27 billion annually, accounting for more than a third of the national health budget.

Yet Australia currently spends just over $2 billion on preventive health each year, or around $89 per person. At just 1.34% of Australian healthcare expenditure, the amount is considerably less than OECD countries Canada, New Zealand and the United Kingdom, with Australia ranked 16th out of 31 OECD countries by per capita expenditure

CMA CEO Carl Gibson said he strongly supported the need for Australia to spend more on preventive health measures that are based on the evidence of cost effectiveness.

He said: “There is a real and immediate role for smarter preventive health. This is not limited to, but certainly includes, the use of complementary medicines for primary and secondary prevention of illness, and encouraging and empowering all Australians to take better care of their health.

“Reports have indicated that selected complementary medicines are able to be highly cost effective, especially in the prevention and management of chronic conditions.”

He referred to a Frost & Sullivan report commissioned by ASMI, which showed robust links between several of the more well-known complementary medicines with reduced risk of a secondary disease event among high-risk groups, and with major potential healthcare cost savings.

National burden

“The report examined the use of six complementary medicines across four chronic disease conditions – cardiovascular disease (CVD), osteoporosis, age-related macular degeneration and depression – all of which contribute heavily to the national burden of illness in Australia.

"Large cost savings were identified, especially for the use of calcium and vitamin D by women aged over 50 who had been diagnosed with osteoporosis or osteopenia,” he said.

“For these conditions alone, the report estimated that between 2015 and 2020 an average annual hospitalisation cost of A$922 million could be potentially saved, along with gains in productivity of A$900 million – a net gain of A$1.8 billion.”

One in two Australians suffer from chronic disease, which is responsible for 83% of all premature deaths in Australia, and accounts for 66% of the burden of disease.

Gibson added: “The literature supports the use of the axiom ‘an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure’ when referring to health. Now is the time that the government needs to be placing the onus on solutions that support the maintenance of good health and address our long term ability to fund an equitable and sustainable healthcare system.”

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