How does health spending in the U.S. compare to other countries?

In this chart collection, we take a look at how U.S. health spending compares to health spending in other OECD countries that are similarly large and wealthy (identified based on median GDP and median GDP per capita). For this analysis we reviewed the OECD Health Statistics database and the CMS National Health Expenditure Accounts data.

Relative to the size of its economy, the U.S. spends a much greater amount on health care

Wealthy countries, including the U.S., tend to spend more per person on health care and related expenses than lower-income countries. However, even as a high-income country, the U.S. spends more per person on health than comparable countries. 

On average, other wealthy countries spend about half as much per person on health than the U.S.

Comparing health spending in the U.S. to other countries is complicated, as each country has unique political, economic, and social attributes that contribute to its spending. Because health spending is closely associated with a country’s wealth, the remaining charts compare the U.S. to similar OECD countries – those with above median national incomes and above median income per person (as measured by GDP and median GDP per capita). Health spending per person in the U.S. was $11,945 in 2020, which was over $4,000 more expensive than any other high-income nation. The average amount spent on health per person in comparable countries ($5,736) is roughly half that of the U.S.

Per capita health spending increased in every peer nation in 2020

In all nations with available data, health spending per capita increased between 2019 and 2020. In the U.S., per capita health spending saw a 10% increase, larger than increases in Austria, France, Germany, the Netherlands, and Sweden. However, excluding federal public health spending and other federal programs (including the Provider Relief Fund and Paycheck Protection Program loans), national health expenditures increased by only 1.9% in 2020. The United Kingdom had the largest increase in per capita health spending between 2019 and 2020, at 17.1%.

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Due to COVID-19, health spending increased and GDP decreased in 2020, resulting in an increased share of GDP going toward health in the U.S. and peer nations

Over the past five decades, the difference between health spending as a share of the economy in the U.S. and comparable OECD countries has widened. In 1970, the U.S. spent about 6% of its GDP on health, similar to spending by several comparable countries (the average of comparably wealthy countries was 5% of GDP in 1970). The U.S. was relatively on pace with other countries until the 1980s, when health spending in the U.S. grew at a significantly faster rate relative to its GDP. The COVID-19 pandemic led to both an increase in health spending and an economic downturn resulting in a shrinking GDP in every comparable country with available data between 2019 to 2020. In 2020, the U.S. spent 19% of its GDP on health consumption (up from 17% in 2019), whereas the next-highest comparable country (the United Kingdom) devoted 13% of its GDP to health spending (up from 10% in 2019).

U.S. health spending growth was higher during the 1980s, but has been similar since

While the U.S. has long had higher than average health spending, growth rates have become more in line with other countries. The 1980s saw accelerated growth in health expenditures per capita in the U.S. The 10.1% average annual growth rate in the U.S. during the 1980s was the highest among comparable countries. Comparably wealthy countries saw an average of 7.3% annual growth during this period. Since the 1990s, health spending has grown similarly in the U.S. and comparable countries.

In recent years, health spending growth has increased slightly in the U.S. and in comparable countries

Health spending growth in both the U.S and comparable countries has increased slightly in recent years, following slowed growth earlier on. During the period from 2005-2010, the U.S. saw an average annual growth rate in health spending of 4.1%, compared to 7.3% during the previous five-year period. Comparable countries also saw health spending growth slow down on average, from 4.6% average annual growth during the 2005-2010 period to 3.9% during the 2010-2015 period.

The Peterson Center on Healthcare and KFF are partnering to monitor how well the U.S. healthcare system is performing in terms of quality and cost.

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