Media releases

November 14, 2014

Chronic disease leading cause of Australian disability and death

Tackling chronic disease is Australia’s biggest health challenge

Chronic diseases are the leading cause of illness, disability and death in Australia[i], affecting more than 14 per cent of Medibank members.

In light of new chronic disease data released by Medibank, Chief Medical Officer Dr Ian Boyd said it was imperative that we develop effective management and treatment solutions to minimise the burden on society.

In total, Medibank paid out almost $600 million for chronic disease related claims on behalf of its members (where the chronic disease was the primary reason for the hospital admission), during FY2014. Compared to the $332 million which was paid out in FY2005, this amount has almost doubled in the last ten years. The top three diseases which Medibank paid the most benefits for were: osteoarthritis ($272 million), coronary heart disease ($132 million) and depression ($49 million).

Chronic kidney disease was the most common reason Medibank members presented at a hospital, accounting for 36% of chronic disease related hospital admissions. This was followed by oral disease, which covers diseases that impact oral health such as cavities and gum disease (18%), then depression (17%).

Victoria and South Australia had the highest proportion of Medibank members identified with a chronic disease, with just over 17% of members in each of these states being identified. Tasmania was next, where nearly 17% of members were identified as having a chronic disease. The Northern Territory had the lowest proportion of chronic disease sufferers, with just over 8% of Medibank members identified.

Gender breakdown was relatively equal, although overall the number of female Medibank members with chronic disease was slightly higher than male members (15.1% compared to 14.8%).

Dr Boyd says, “With changing lifestyles and an ageing population, chronic diseases have become increasingly common and now cause most of the burden of ill health. Although we live longer these days, one of the disadvantages is that people may be living longer with incurable and often debilitating diseases.

“According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, currently, nine in 10 deaths have chronic disease as an underlying cause[ii]. In addition to the personal impact on an individual’s quality of life, chronic diseases cause an economic burden due to the effects of healthcare costs and lost productivity from illness. We need to transform the way we respond to chronic disease, to make sure that as individuals live longer, they also live in better health.”

About this data

This report draws on independent reports from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW). It is also based on Medibank data collated from members who were admitted to a private hospital in the 2014 financial year. Information on specific procedures and services does not include data from Medibank members who presented at public hospitals, or data from ahm members.


[i] Australia’s Health 2011b - Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2011

[ii] Australia’s Health 2014 - Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2014

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