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Health care spending: The US v. The rest of the world 

Written by Diane Archer

NPR’s Goats and Soda reports on two recent studies published in The Lancet, which reveal that per person health care spending in the U.S. continues to far exceed the rest of the world. And, life expectancy in the U.S, is often no better and sometimes worse than in other countries.

In 2014, annual average per person spending on health care in Greece, Japan and the United Kingdom is much less than in the U.S., with Greece spending the least, $2,170. Japan spends $3,816 and the United Kingdom spends $3,935.  The U.S. spends $9,237. But, life expectancies are far higher in those countries than in the U.S.: Greece-81, Japan-83.1, and U.K.-80.9 versus U.S.-79.1.

NPR interviewed Dr. Joseph Dielman to help explain these large differences in health spending. Relative to wealthy countries, poor countries spend less on health care, with some international assistance. Middle-income countries rely some on government and some on people to pay for care. In wealthy countries, government and private insurers are the largest payers.

As soon as people must pay out of pocket for their care, they may forego care, with the poorest most likely to do so. But, even in the U.S., people with high medical costs often forego care. Not surprisingly, of the 12 wealthiest countries, the U.S. ranks last on life expectancy because of our lack of universal coverage and high health care costs.

Today, Thailand and Mexico are two middle-income countries working toward universal coverage so that everyone has access to basic health care. Even Vietnam, which spends just $400 a person on health care is moving towards providing basic necessary care to everyone.

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