Economic Impact of COPD

Economic Impact of COPD

Fact sheet: A report into the economic impact of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) and cost effective solutions report

Key Research Findings

A deadly disease

  • Over 2.1 million Australians currently have Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease
  • Of these over 1.2 people will have a sufficiently progressed stage of COPD that it is already affecting activities of daily life.


Prevalence and epidemiology

  • There are four stages (I to IV) of COPD which rank the condition in terms of severity, with IV being the most severe
  • In 2008, it is estimated that 2.1 million Australians (equating to nearly 1 in 5 aged over 40) have some form of COPD
    – Of these, 1.2 million Australians have symptomatic COPD (Stages II -IV) which is affecting their daily lives
    – Approximately 876,000 Australians have Stage I COPD, many of whom will progress to develop more severe COPD if left unrecognised and untreated
    – 57% of those with COPD are women
    – Of those with COPD, 47% are of working age (15-64 years) and 62% are over 60 years
  • Under-diagnosis of COPD is a major issue with between 40% and 80% of people with COPD mistaking their symptoms for another condition.2 If nothing is done to change current trends, by 2050 an estimated 4.5 million Australians will have COPD
    – By 2050, the prevalence of symptomatic COPD (Stages II -IV) is projected to increase to 2.6 million
    – COPD is projected to increase for women from 6.2% to 8.2% and for men from 4.8% to 6.8% by 2050

Health costs – in 2008, COPD will cost the economy an estimated $98 billion

  • The impact of the disease in terms of utilisation of health services and impairment of quality of life manifests in larger part from Stage II onwards
  • Stage I is still associated with declining lung function and is therefore important to recognise and treat as many with Stage I will go on to develop more severe COPD if left untreated.
  • In 2008, the financial cost of COPD was $8.8 billion. Of this:
    – $6.8 billion was productivity lost due to lower employment, absenteeism and premature death of Australians with COPD
    – $0.9 billion was direct health system expenditure
    – $1.2 billion was deadweight loss (DWLs) from transfers including welfare payments and taxation foregone, and other indirect costs such as aids and home modifications
  • Additionally, the overall value of loss of wellbeing due to COPD is estimated at a further $89.4 billion

Health disorder comparisons

  • COPD is more costly per case than cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis or arthritis
  • COPD is more common in any year than most common types of cancer, road traffic accidents, heart disease or diabetes

Cost effective interventions

  • Medical evidence indicates COPD is preventable and treatable and that early diagnosis combined with disease management programs could reduce the COPD disease burden in Australia
  • Early diagnosis that leads to initiation of proven management strategies through a range treatment options offers patients the best chance to reduce the overall impact of COPD and to stem or slow the disease progression into the more severe stages
  • In recent years progress has been made regarding management strategies and non-pharmacological interventions that have shown to be cost effective

Report recommendations

Four key strategies have been identified which represent a national approach to more cost effectively manage COPD in Australia:

1. Research: to understand the full extent of COPD

2. Diagnosis and early intervention: COPD has long been under-diagnosed in Australia. The earlier COPD is diagnosed, the earlier steps can be taken to stem or slow disease progression to stages that cause significant impact on quality of life and costs to the health system. In particular, diagnosis can be improved via nation-wide community education and improved access to targeted spirometry (lung function) testing

3. Health service delivery: improve access and acceptance of cost effective management strategies, in particular pulmonary rehabilitation and equitable access to oxygen therapy

4. Employment issues: COPD has an enormous employment and productivity impact through time away from work and lower effectiveness; hence there is a need for greater workplace awareness and education

About the report

Access Economics was commissioned by Lung Foundation Australia to estimate the economic impact of COPD in Australia in 2008. The BOLD (Burden of Obstructive Lung Disease) Study’s Australian sub-group forms the basis for the prevalence estimates for Australians over 40, and is combined with the Australian National Health Survey (NHS) results to estimate COPD prevalence across Australia.



  1. Access Economics Pty Limited: Economic Impact of COPD and cost effective solutions. October 2008
  2. Tinkelman DG, Price DB, Nordyke RJ, Halbert R (2006). Misdiagnosis of COPD and asthma in primary care patients 40 years of age and over. J Asthma 43:75-80



ABC 7.30 Report

Lung disease costing Australia billions

A report by Access Economics shows more than two million Australians are suffering from lung disease. According to the report, this year alone lung disease will cost the country $9 billion in treatment and lost productivity.

Contains: video, image, transcript.