Ageing and healthcare costs in Australia: a case of policy-based evidence?

Michael D Coory
Med J Aust 2004; 180 (11): 581-583.


  • There have been dire predictions that population ageing will result in skyrocketing health costs. However, numerous studies have shown that the effect of population ageing on health expenditure is likely to be small and manageable.

  • Pessimism about population ageing is popular in policy debates because it fits with ideological positions that favour growth in the private sector and seek to contain health expenditure in the public sector. It might also distract attention from the need to evaluate the appropriateness and effectiveness of current patterns of care.

  • Pessimistic scenarios have stifled debate and limited the number of policy options considered. Policy making in Australia would be improved if we took a more realistic view of the effect of population ageing on health expenditure.

Please login with your free MJA account to view this article in full

  • Michael D Coory

  • Epidemiology Services Unit, Queensland Health, Brisbane, QLD.


Competing interests:

None identified.

  • 1. Australian Bureau of Statistics. Deaths, 2002. Canberra: ABS, 2003. (Catalogue No. 3302.0.)
  • 2. Ebrahim S. Ageing, health, and society. Int J Epidemiol 2002; 31: 715-718.
  • 3. Pearson C. Operation will be a success. The Weekend Australian 2003; May 10–11: 18.
  • 4. Mitchell H. Andrew Olle Media Lecture 2003. Available at: (accessed Dec 2003).
  • 5. Murphy C. Why the government has to care. The Financial Review 2004; 21 Feb: 22.
  • 6. Duckett SJ. Rational care before rationed care. Intern Med J 2002; 32: 533-534.
  • 7. Frankel S, Ebrahim S, Davey Smith G. The limits to the demand for health care. BMJ 2000; 321: 40-45.
  • 8. Richardson J, Roberston I. Ageing and the cost of health services. Working Paper 90. Melbourne: Centre for Health Program Evaluation, 1999.
  • 9. Cooper C, Hagan P. The ageing Australian population and future health costs: 1996–2051. Department of Health and Aged Care. Occasional Papers: New Series No. 7. Canberra: AGPS, 1999.
  • 10. Badham J. Future financial impact of the current health financing system. Aust Health Rev 1998; 214: 96-110.
  • 11. Commonwealth of Australia. Intergenerational Report, 2002–03. Budget Paper No. 5. Canberra, Canprint, 2002: 36, 38, 1. Available at: (accessed Apr 2004).
  • 12. Canadian Institute for Health Information. National health expenditure trends. Ottawa, CIHI, 2000.
  • 13. National Academy on an Aging Society. Demography is not destiny. Washington, DC: National Academy on an Aging Society, 1999.
  • 14. Mullan P. The imaginary time bomb. Why an ageing population is not a social problem. London: I B Tauris & Co, 2000.
  • 15. Fuchs V. Though much is taken—reflections on ageing, health and medical care. Milbank Mem Fund Q 1984; 62: 143-155.
  • 16. Van Weel C, Michels J. Dying, not old age, to blame for costs of health care. Lancet 1997; 350: 1159-1160.
  • 17. Manton KG, Gu X. Changes in the prevalence of chronic disability in the United States black and nonblack population above age 65 from 1982 to 1999. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 2001; 98: 6354-6359.
  • 18. Grundy E. The health and health care of older adults in England and Wales, 1841-1994. In: Charlton J, Murphy M, editor. The health of adult Britain 1841–1994. London, Stationery Office, 1997.
  • 19. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Disability and ageing: Australian population patterns and implications. Canberra, AIHW, 2000. (AIHW Catalogue No. DIS 19.)
  • 20. Mathers C. Trends in health expectancies in Australia 1981–1993. J Aust Popul Assoc 1996; 13: 1-15.
  • 21. Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing. Returns on investment in public health, Canberra: DHAC, 2003.
  • 22. Girgis ST, Ward JE. A financial case to enable state health jurisdictions to invest in tobacco control. Med J Aust 2003; 179: 539-524. <MJA full text>
  • 23. Fries JF. Aging, natural death and the compression of morbidity. N Engl J Med 1980; 303: 130-135.
  • 24. Hill SR, Henry DD, Smith AJ. Rising prescription drug costs: whose responsibility? Med J Aust 1997; 167: 6-7.
  • 25. Klein R. From evidence-based medicine to evidence-based policy? J Health Serv Res Policy 2000; 5: 65-66.


remove_circle_outline Delete Author
add_circle_outline Add Author

Do you have any competing interests to declare? *

I/we agree to assign copyright to the Medical Journal of Australia and agree to the Conditions of publication *
I/we agree to the Terms of use of the Medical Journal of Australia *
Email me when people comment on this article

Responses are now closed for this article.