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

In this chart collection, we examine how U.S. health spending compares to health spending in other OECD countries that are similarly large and wealthy, 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 than other high-income nations

Wealthy countries, including the U.S., tend to spend more per person on health care and related expenses than lower-income countries. However, even among higher-income countries, the U.S. spends far more per person on health.

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 both above median national incomes and above median income per person (as measured by GDP and median GDP per capita) in at least one of the last ten years.

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

Health spending per person in the U.S. was $12,914 in 2021, which was over $5,000 more than any other high-income nation. The average amount spent on health per person in comparable countries ($6,125) is less than half of what the U.S. spends per person.

Per capita health spending increased in every peer nation in 2021

In all nations with available data, health spending per capita increased between 2020 and 2021. In the U.S., per capita health spending saw a 2.6% increase, a smaller increase than in Austria, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. Austria had the largest increase in per capita health spending among countries with available data between 2020 and 2021, at 13.8%.

This 2.6% increase in per capita health spending is down from a 9.9% increase from 2019 to 2020. This is likely due in part to a 3.5% decline in Federal government health spending in 2021 over the previous year compared to a 36.8% increase in 2020.

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Health spending as a share of GDP in the U.S. declined in 2021 as the economy improved and health spending grew more slowly

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 6.9% of its GDP on health, similar to spending in several comparable countries (the average of comparably wealthy countries was about 4.9% 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.  Since then, health spending as a share of the economy has grown faster in the U.S. than in peer nations.

The COVID-19 pandemic led to both an increase in health spending and an economic downturn resulting in higher health spending as a share of the GDP in the U.S. and every comparable country between 2019 to 2020. In 2020, the U.S. spent 19.7% of its GDP on health consumption (up from 17.6% in 2019). In 2021, health spending as a share of GDP declined to 18.3% in the U.S.—but remains substantially higher than in peer countries.

Health spending had been growing at similar rates between the U.S. and comparable countries before the pandemic

While the U.S. has long had higher than average health spending, recent years have seen higher spending growth in other nations. Historically, the 1980s saw accelerated growth in health expenditures per capita in the U.S. The 9.9% average annual growth rate in the U.S. during the 1980s was significantly higher than comparable countries. Comparably wealthy countries saw an average of 7.3% annual growth during this period.

Looking at 5-year growth rates, during the period from 2005-2010, the U.S. saw an average annual growth rate in health spending of 4.1%, compared to 7.2% 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, down from 5.3% during the 2000-2005 period. The annual growth rate for the average of comparable countries increased between 2020 and 2021 to 9.3% versus a 2.6% increase for the U.S. during the same 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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