Special Report

Countries Spending the Most on Health Care

10. Belgium
> Health expenditure per capita: $4,419
> Expenditure as a pct. of GDP: 10.9% (9th highest)
> Pct. obese: 13.8% (10th lowest)
> Life expectancy: 80.5 years (12th lowest)

Belgium spent $4,419 on health per capita in 2012, versus an OECD average of $3,484.
On pharmaceuticals, Belgium spent $736 per capita in 2012, trailing only Canada and the U.S. among OECD countries. Health spending in Belgium — and in several other countries with large health budgets — included a wide range of health care services. For example, in addition to relatively large numbers of doctors, there were also 1.7 psychiatric care beds per 1,000 Belgians, more than double the average for the OECD and second only to Japan. Despite the high health expenditure, the country didn’t have especially better health outcomes. Life expectancy at birth for the Belgian population was just in line with the OECD average of 80.2 years.

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9. Luxembourg
> Health expenditure per capita: $4,578
> Expenditure as a pct. of GDP: 7.1% (5st lowest)
> Pct. obese: N/A
> Life expectancy: 81.5 years (tied-10th highest)

Only eight countries spent more per capita than Luxembourg on health care. Luxembourg, however, only spent 7.1% of its GDP on health care, less than all but a handful of OECD countries. This is likely due to Luxembourg’s exceptionally high GDP per capita, which was estimated at $78,670 last year, the highest among all OECD nations. Luxembourg residents were also quite wealthy, earning an average of more than $52,000 annually as of 2011, second only to the U.S. Country residents, however, had some unhealthy habits. They drank more than their fellow OECD members, consuming 11.4 liters per capita in 2012, versus the OECD average of just 9.0 liters. On the other hand, the infant mortality rate — a reliable measure of a nation’s health care system — was just 2.5 deaths per 1,000 live births, considerably lower than the OECD average of 4.0 deaths per 1,000 live births.

8. Canada
> Health expenditure per capita: $4,602
> Expenditure as a pct. of GDP: 10.9% (8th highest)
> Pct. obese: 17.7% (8th highest)
> Life expectancy: 81.5 years (tied-10th highest)

Unlike the majority of countries spending the most on health care, Canada residents — along with the U.S. residents — were more likely to consider themselves obese compared to the rest of the OECD. Nearly 18% thought they were overweight compared to 15.4% of OECD residents in 2012. Pharmaceutical spending accounted for $771 per Canadian resident in 2012, trailing only the U.S. While Canada’s single-payer health care system is often compared to the relatively privatized U.S. system, Canada was one of just a few countries where a smaller proportion of health spending came from public sources compared to the OECD average of 72.3%.

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7. Denmark
> Health expenditure per capita: $4,698
> Expenditure as a pct. of GDP: 11.0% (7th highest)
> Pct. obese: 13.4% (9th lowest)
> Life expectancy: 80.1 years (10th lowest)

Nearly 86% of health care expenditure comes from public sources in Denmark, second only to the Netherlands. Denmark is known for its high tax rates and comprehensive welfare system. The Danish government has led the developed world in spending, with total disbursements at around 60% of GDP in the last few years, versus 41.7% for the OECD. As a result, the government provides Danes with a wide range of services, including health care, education, and job training. Parents are entitled to about a year’s worth of maternity leave, among the most generous policies worldwide. Country residents are also among the world’s happiest, rating their lives 7.6 on a scale of one to 10, nearly the best evaluation among OECD nations. Unlike the majority of high health spenders, Danish residents are prescribed a relatively small amount of pharmaceuticals. Pharmaceuticals accounted for less than $300 per capita, nearly the lowest rate among OECD countries.