Special Report

This Is How Americans' Medical Bills Compare to Other Countries

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5. Sweden
> Per capita out-of-pocket medical spending: $807 a year (14.8% of total)
> Total per capita health care spending: $5,447 a year
> Life expectancy at birth: 82.5 years
> Population: 10.2 million

Swedish citizens are automatically enrolled in the country’s universal health care system. Sweden also provides emergency care to citizens of other EU countries as well as asylum seekers and undocumented children. Much of the $807 in per capita annual out-of-pocket medical costs are for drugs and copayments.

As is typically the case in OECD countries with universal health care, Sweden has a relatively healthy population. Life expectancy at birth in the country is 82.5 years, a full decade longer than the 72.4-year global average.

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4. Australia
> Per capita out-of-pocket medical spending: $837 a year (18.3% of total)
> Total per capita health care spending: $5,005 a year
> Life expectancy at birth: 82.6 years
> Population: 25.0 million

Australia has a universal health care system that is funded largely by the federal government and run by state and territorial governments. Private health insurance, which offers patients greater options for service providers and allows speedier access to non-emergency services, is also encouraged by the government for those above a certain income level.

Australians do not pay for general practitioners, but about 15% of the cost of specialist visits are out of pocket. Prescription drugs can also have out-pocket-costs, but those are typically capped.

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3. Belgium
> Per capita out-of-pocket medical spending: $852 a year (17.6% of total)
> Total per capita health care spending: $4,944 a year
> Life expectancy at birth: 81.6 years
> Population: 11.4 million

People living and working in Belgium pay 7.35% of their gross salary — about half of those expenses are covered by employers — into a state-run health care system. This affords them access to a range of medical services, including doctor appointments, dental care, and prescription drugs. Residents who are not working are entitled to the same benefits as workers who pay into the system. Per capita annual out-of-pocket medical spending in Belgium totals $852 a year, more than in every other European country on this list.

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2. Republic of Korea
> Per capita out-of-pocket medical spending: $1,048 a year (32.9% of total)
> Total per capita health care spending: $3,192 a year
> Life expectancy at birth: 82.7 years
> Population: 51.6 million

The health care system in South Korea is run by the country’s Ministry of Health and Welfare. It covers nearly every citizen and offers health care services. The country offers both Western medicine as well as traditional Eastern approaches.

Along with the United States, South Korea is one of only two large OECD countries on this list where residents pay on average more than $1,000 annually in out-of-pocket health care costs. The Korean health insurance model has been criticized for not being comprehensive enough, and out-of-pocket costs are attributable not only to insurance copayments for covered services, but also to payments for services that are not covered.

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1. United States of America
> Per capita out-of-pocket medical spending: $1,122 a year (11.0% of total)
> Total per capita health care spending: $10,586 a year
> Life expectancy at birth: 78.6 years
> Population: 327.2 million

Of the 20 largest OECD countries, the United States has the highest out of pocket health care costs per capita. The U.S. does not offer universal health care coverage to its citizens, and the typical American adult spends $1,122 every year on health care out of pocket — on everything from insurance deductibles and prescription drug copayments, as well as health care products for personal use.

Even more remarkable than the high out-of-pocket health care cost in the United States is the high overall cost of health care. In total, government, private, and personal health care spending in the U.S. amounts to a staggering $10,586 a year per person — over $3,000 more than the comparable figure in Switzerland, the next highest spending OECD country. The U.S.’s high health care costs are attributable to a number of factors, including higher drug prices and high administrative costs.

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