US government was spending more on health than almost every other country even before Obamacare

What with all the fuss in the US surrounding the introduction of parts of Obamacare – the President’s new government-supported healthcare plan – it’s worth reflecting on a couple of salient facts.

First, for all the worry and concern about the measure creating a new National Health Service in the United States, even before Obamacare’s introduction the US state was responsible for more spending on health than the entire health bill (public and private sector) of most countries in the world – including the UK. That’s right: as you can see in the chart below, in 2011 the US public sector spent more on provision of health services than both the National Health Service and the UK private healthcare sector combined. And more, for that matter, than almost every other developed country in the western world. And we’re not just talking in absolute terms – these are comparable, per capita measures.


The second salient fact is that in spite of this mammoth amount of spending (pre-Obamacare, remember), American life-expectancy is actually lower than the average across the developed world. Now consider the fact that back in 1970 it was comfortably above the OECD average. NB this is relative performance: Americans are living longer than they were in 1970; it’s just that the country no longer has as good life expectancy in relation to others as it did in the 1970s.



Incidentally, it’s worth noting that although the US spends more on public provision of healthcare than most other countries, only a very small fraction of that is currently classed as direct spending. The majority is social security schemes such as Medicare and Medicaid – as you can see in the OECD chart below that breaks down where health spending comes from.


All these statistics and charts are from the OECD’s latest survey of the global healthcare market.