Special Report

Countries Spending the Most on Health Care

The United States currently spends more per person on health care than any other developed country. Health outcomes in the U.S., however, are among the worst.

Despite weak health spending growth worldwide, a number of countries still had substantial health care budgets as of 2012. Based on data released by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the U.S. led the developed world in 2012, spending $8,745 per capita on health care. Turkey, by contrast, spent just $984 per capita, the lowest among developed countries. 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the countries spending the most on health care per person in 2012.


Click here to see the countries spending the most on health care

According to the report, “Higher health sector prices explain much of the difference between the U.S. and other high-spending countries.” Higher health care prices in the U.S. are partly the result of the greater use of medical technology. Another reason is the fragmented insurance system, which does not have a centralized price setting mechanism. By contrast, many European countries — which mostly have a centralized health care system — have placed limits on health care prices, or their growth.

In an interview with Luca Lorenzoni and David Morgan, health economist and head of health accounts at the OECD Health Division, the two discussed the differences in the health care systems. Lorenzoni explained that the U.S. is an outlier in terms of the complexity of its health system, which employs diverse insurance programs, payment systems, and a wide range of services.

Pharmaceutical spending is a major component of health care expenditure among more developed countries. Six of the countries spending the most on health care spent more per capita on pharmaceuticals and other medical non-durables than the OECD per capita expenditure of $498.

Drug expenditures, however, have been falling in recent years. According to Morgan, a slowdown in pharmaceutical spending partly explains the recent decline in health care spending growth across OECD member states. Increased share of generic drugs, due primarily to the expiration of major patents, explains the bulk of the decline in pharmaceutical spending.

Not surprisingly, there are also relatively high numbers of medical professionals for the OECD member nations that spend the most on health care. All but one of the 10 countries had considerably more nurses than the 8.8 nurses per 1,000 people across the OECD. Austria, Norway, and Germany also had more than four physicians per 1,000 residents in 2012, versus just over three per 1,000 residents in the OECD.

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