America Spends More on Health — But Is It Paying Off?

The U.S. spends more on health than other advanced nations, yet Americans aren't living as long as those other countries' citizens. Experts suggest reasons why.

America Spends More on Health — But Is It Paying Off? Photo (cc) by 401(K) 2013

The U.S. spends more on health than other advanced nations, yet Americans aren’t living as long as those other countries’ citizens.

That’s among the findings of the latest annual “Health at a Glance” report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), which was released this week.

The OECD is made up of 34 nations — including the world’s most advanced countries as well as some developing countries — and seeks to improve economic and social well-being worldwide.

According to the report, as of 2013, health expenditures in the United States amounted to a 16.4 percent share of the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP), which is a key measure of a country’s economy. That’s more than any other country in the OECD.

The U.S. is followed by the Netherlands and Switzerland, where health expenditures amount to 11.1 percent of each country’s GDP in 2013. The average for all 34 OECD countries in 2013 was 8.9 percent.

The 10 countries that spend the most on health relative to GDP are:

  1. United States
  2. Netherlands
  3. Switzerland
  4. Sweden
  5. Germany
  6. France
  7. Denmark
  8. Japan
  9. Belgium
  10. Canada

At the same time, while life expectancy has increased in the U.S., it has increased at a slower rate than in many other OECD countries, the report states:

So there is now a gap of almost two years between life expectancy at birth in the United States compared with the average in OECD countries. … In 1970, life expectancy in the United States was one year above the OECD average.

The report attributes this longevity gap partly to the fragmented nature of the U.S. health care system, in which relatively few resources are devoted to public health and primary care.

Risk factors like poorer health-related behaviors are also a factor in the longevity gap, according to the report. Such risk factors include increasing alcohol consumption and high obesity rates.

Are you surprised by this news about U.S. health spending and life expectancy? Let us know what you think below or on Facebook.

Karla Bowsher
Karla Bowsher
I’m a freelance journalist and former newspaper reporter who has covered both personal and public finance. I've worked for a top 50 major metro daily and a community newspaper as well as ... More

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