Special Report

Countries Spending the Most on Health Care

7. Denmark
>Health expenditure per capita:
> Expenditure as a pct. of GDP: 10.4%
> Obesity rate: 14.2%
> Life expectancy: 80.4

Denmark spent 8.4% of its GDP on health care in 1980, the most of any country that year. Since then, however, health care spending has increased in all OECD nations. So while Denmark’s spending increased to about 10.4% of its GDP, it now spends the seventh most on health care worldwide, both in dollars terms and as a share of GDP. While spending in the Scandinavian nation is near historic highs now, it will likely grow in the future as the population ages. The share of the country’s population 65 and older is projected to rise from about 18.3% in 2014 to nearly 23.8% by 2050.

Though Denmark is one of many OECD countries with universal health care, no nation’s government absorbs more of the cost. The Danish government covers about 84.3% of health care costs compared to an average of 36.9% of total health care costs across OECD nations.

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6. Germany
>Health expenditure per capita:
> Expenditure as a pct. of GDP: 11.0%
> Obesity rate: 23.6%
> Life expectancy: 80.9

Older people typically require more medical attention than younger people, and more than a fifth of Germany’s population is 65 and older, the largest share in the world after Japan and Italy. Germany spent roughly 11% of its total GDP on health care in 2013, or $4,819 per capita, each higher than all but a handful of other countries.

Compared to the United States, Germans are very well insured. While slightly less than 89% of Americans are insured through both public and private avenues, nearly all Germans are insured on either public or private plans. The country’s universal health care system likely encourages preventative care visits. On average, a German resident consulted a physician roughly 10 times in 2013, more than double the consultation rate in the United States.

5. Sweden
>Health expenditure per capita:
> Expenditure as a pct. of GDP: 11.0%
> Obesity rate: 11.7%
> Life expectancy: 82.0

OECD nations spend an average of $3,453 per capita on health care annually. Sweden spends roughly $1,500 more than the average, the fifth largest sum among OECD nations. In 1970, Swedish citizens had a life expectancy of about 75 years, longer than citizens of any other country at that time. Although life expectancy in the Scandinavian country has increased since then to 82 years, Sweden now has only the ninth longest life expectancy as life expectancy globally has been on the rise over the past several decades.

Despite universal health insurance coverage, Swedes visit the doctor relatively infrequently. With an average of 2.9 physician consultations per person per year, people in Sweden see a doctor less often than people in most other countries reviewed. More than 81% of Swedish citizens report being in good or very good health, a larger share than in all but five nations examined by the OECD. This may partially explain the infrequent doctor visits in Sweden.

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4. Netherlands
>Health expenditure per capita:
> Expenditure as a pct. of GDP: 11.1%
> Obesity rate: 11.1%
> Life expectancy: 81.4

Residents of the Netherlands, except for conscientious objectors and members of the military, are required to purchase health care by a government mandate implemented in 2006. Only around 1% of country residents do not have insurance. The country’s health care expenditure, which at $5,131 per capita trails only three other OECD nations, amounts to 11.1% of GDP, the second largest share after the United States. While residents are required to purchase health insurance, the cost is mostly covered by the government. Out-of-pocket expenses account for just 5.2% of the overall cost, the lowest such share among countries reviewed by the OECD.

Like most other prosperous nations spending the most on health care, people in the Netherlands — even the elderly — have a relatively positive perception of their own health. Nearly 60% of country residents 65 and over believe they are in good health, considerably higher than the OECD average proportion of 43.4%.

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