Not Treating Snorers Costs Australia Millions: Report

Treating all Australians with the snoring condition obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) would earn $880 million for the nation’s coffers and significantly boost wellbeing, a new report has found.

Sleep specialists have welcomed a new Deloitte Access Economics report that confirms CPAP, or continuous positive airway pressure, is not only a cost-effective treatment – it actually costs the nation not to use it to treat OSA.

“Results showed that for just over $1 billion CPAP could be provided to every Australian who needs it,” says Lynne Pezzullo, Deloitte Access Economics lead partner for health economics, and principal report author. “This investment would generate savings of $1.92 billion a year in health outlays, lost worker productivity and other financial impacts, and lead to substantial improvements in wellbeing. That’s a net gain of $880 million a year just from getting everyone treated.”

Professor David Hillman, founder of the Sleep Health Foundation, which commissioned the report, says the findings are startling and confirm more must be done to get sufferers onto the effective OSA treatment.  While there are treatment alternatives, CPAP remains the gold standard, particularly for the more severe forms of OSA.

“We now have hard evidence that, used effectively, CPAP both relieves the country’s coffers and improves the wellbeing of people with this common chronic condition,” Professor Hillman says. “This is a powerful message which needs to resonate in the minds of health planners and professionals who have a collective responsibility to find and treat this problem.”

“Steps that inhibit reasonable diagnostic and treatment efforts are not just cold-hearted, they are financially irresponsible,” Professor Hillman says.

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is the complete or partial blockage of the upper airway during sleep, causing disrupted breathing and often snoring. The condition is common, affecting 775,000 Australians, and is linked to daytime fatigue and cardiovascular problems. Rates are highest among older adults and those carrying too much weight.

The total financial cost of OSA is $5.1 billion a year. This includes health care costs of $500 million, productivity losses of $3.4 billion, and other financial impacts of $1.2 billion.  Non-financial costs include $34.1 billion in disability adjusted life years (or DALYs) lost.

“Thankfully we have a safe and highly effective treatment, CPAP, which works by continuously blowing gentle air through the airway to prevent it from collapsing when you breathe,” Professor Hillman explains. “Sadly however, a large proportion of Australians with the condition are undiagnosed and untreated. They live each day with the foggy-headed side effects of repetitive obstruction-related sleep disruption each night, not realising there is a treatment that can bring that vitality back to their lives.”

The Sleep Health Foundation, Australia’s leading advocate for healthy sleep, took urgent steps to quantify the economic benefits of CPAP treatment. The Deloitte Access Economics study assessed the value for money of CPAP compared to no care from the perspective of the costs to the health care system. It found CPAP costs an extra $550, but also saved .03 DALYs per person per year, meaning CPAP is highly cost effective by World Health Organisation benchmarks.

The report also looked at the overall costs to society, which include health care system costs together with other financial costs, such as productivity, accidents and informal care. Using this calculation, CPAP was estimated to save $470 per person with OSA per year. 

“The key point in this is that we found the intervention both saves money and improves wellbeing,” says the foundation’s chair, Professor Dorothy Bruck.

The study conservatively assumed just over half of people who start CPAP stick with it for five years or longer, therefore benefiting from the treatment.
Professor Bruck hopes the results will motivate health planners to make CPAP more affordable and take steps to ensure OSA patients are diagnosed and treated sooner. “There is a message here we hope will be heard down the corridors at the Department of Health,” she says. “Let’s start getting these patients treated to improve quality of life and the national bank balance.”

For further information, contact Sleep Health Foundation on (02) 8814 8655.

About Sleep Health Foundation
The Sleep Health Foundation is Australia’s leading advocate for sleep health. The Foundation aims to improve people’s sleep and their lives by promoting healthy sleep, raising awareness of sleep disorders and building partnerships with organisations. Free, independent, expert-reviewed fact sheets on every aspect of sleep are available at