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US Spends Most on Health Care Per Person Among Industrialized Nations — Dollars and Sense

doctor health care medical stethoscope
Joe Raedle, Getty Images

Anyone in America who has gotten a medical bill for a CAT scan or an MRI might feel like they are paying some of the highest medical costs on the planet. That’s not an exaggeration.

The Commonwealth Fund, a private health care advocacy foundation, compiled the data of medical costs and billing for 13 industrialized nations. It found that the United States far and away spent the most on its health care in 2009 — with costs are still on the rise.

Total health care spending reached an average of almost $8,000 per person and represented a whopping 17.4 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP). Those totals are more than three times higher than Japan, which had the lowest total spending per person of $2,878 and represented only 8.5 percent of the GDP.

Japan has been able to keep costs low by implementing a “fee-for-service system” that gives patients access to any specialist, hospital or service and allows the state to control health care prices to keep spending within the budget. In the US, health care costs are controlled simply by “restricting access,” according to the report.

The high rates don’t stop at the final bill for an exam or an operation, either. America’s rates for deaths from preventable asthma and diabetes-linked amputations are also among the highest, but ranked in the mid-average range for in-hospital heart attack and stroke-related deaths. Prescription drug prices also ranked higher by more than one-third of the cost than Canada and Germany and more than double compared to Australia, Britain, France, the Netherlands and New Zealand.

Industrialized Nations’ Health Care Spending Per Capita for 2009

1. United States – $7,690
2. Norway – $5,352
3. Switzerland – $5,144
4. The Netherlands – $4,914
5. Canada – $4,363
6. Denmark – $4,348
7. Germany – $4,218
8. France – $3,978
9. Sweden – $3,722
10. The U.K. – $3,487
11. Australia – $3,445
12. New Zealand – $2,983
13. Japan – $2,878


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