In an age of rising obesity and mounting chronic disease, we believe Australians are becoming less healthy, making the national health budget blow out as fast as people’s waistlines.

But one set of statistics suggests otherwise: in 2012-13, the latest period surveyed, estimated spending per person on health averaged $6,430, some $17 less per person than in the previous year

The new report from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW),

Health expenditure Australia 2012-13, said total spending on health goods and services in Australia was estimated at $147.4 billion in 2012-13 (9.67% of GDP). This was “the lowest growth the AIHW has recorded since it began the Health expenditure Australia series in the mid-1980s, and more than three times lower than the average growth over the last decade (5.1%),” according to AIHW Director and CEO David Kalisch.

In The Conversation Fronscesca Jackson-Webb wrote that, “Health Minister Peter Dutton has used rising health costs to justify the introduction of a $7 GP co-payment, which is yet to pass the Senate…”

She added, “In 2012–13, governments funded 68% of Australia’s health expenditure, 1.6 percentage points lower than the previous year. Individuals, private health insurers and motor vehicle/worker’s compensation insurance programs funded the remainder of the nation’s health bill.”

The government would find it hard to contest the findings – as the AIHW says, it is “a major national agency set up by the Australian Government to provide reliable, regular and relevant information and statistics on Australia's health and welfare.”

The online report quoted Prof Stephen Duckett, Director of the Grattan Institute’s Health Program, as saying that, “A number of commentators have claimed the health system is unsustainable and this report gives a lie to those sorts of statements.”

Professor Duckett said it was interesting that Australian government spending had declined by A$1.5bn in real terms, while out-of-pocket costs had risen by $1.7bn.

So there’s been, effectively, a cost shift from the Commonwealth government to patients and consumers over that last 12 months.

I think that puts the co-payment issue in perspective: there’s already been a shift in that direction… as I’ve pointed out previously, the co-payments impact particularly on the poor and … the sickest among the poor.”

Internationally, Australia’s health spending as a proportion of gross domestic product was 9.4 per cent in 2012, just above the OECD average of 9.2 per cent.

Most expenditure goes to hospitals (A$56bn), followed by primary care (A$53bn), with public health (A$2bn) a distant third.