health care spending in the US: an international comparison

Regarding expenditure on health care, the United States is an outlier in two ways. First, it is the only industrial country that fails to provide residents with universal access to health care. Second, US expenditure per capita, and as a proportion of GDP, far exceeds that of other countries. A recent Issue Brief of The Commonwealth Fund compares the US experience with that of other countries and finds it wanting.

This study … compares health care spending, supply, utilization, prices, and quality in 13 industrialized countries: Australia, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Japan, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, the U.K., and the U.S. ….

U.S. health care spending … has outpaced GDP growth for the past several decades and far exceeds spending in any other country. The analysis in this brief suggests that this spending cannot be attributed to higher income, an aging population, or greater supply or utilization of hospitals and doctors. Instead, it is more likely that higher spending is largely due to higher prices and perhaps because of more readily accessible technology and greater rates of obesity. Despite being more expensive, the quality of health care in the U.S. does not appear to be notably superior to other industrialized countries.

Such an expensive health system creates an enormous financial strain and can pose a barrier to accessing care. For many U.S. households, health care has become increasingly unaffordable. In 2010, four of 10 adults went without care because of costs and the number of either uninsured or “underinsured” (i.e., people with health coverage that does not adequately protect them from high medical expenses) increased to more than 80 million.

David A. Squires, “Explaining High Health Care Spending in the United States: An International Comparison of Supply, Utilization, Prices, and Quality“, The Commonwealth Fund, Issue Brief, 3 May 2012. (Click on charts for a clearer view.)

HT: Michael Littlewood.


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