What our health spending buys us

Thursday, I posted a map that showed the huge variance in how much states spend per person on health care. It ranges from a high of $9,278 per person in Massachusetts to $5,031 in Utah, according to a two-decade long review of data by the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

A few commenters asked what all this spending means for health: Does higher spending on medical care translate into better health status? Thanks to another study out this week, this one from the United Health Foundation, we have an answer. The rankings measure 23 health outcomes in states including rates of smoking, obesity, preventable hospitalizations and cardiovascular deaths.

Here’s the map again on how much states spend:


And here’s the map on outcomes, unfortunately not color-coded, but the states with better health outcomes are the more elevated ones:


The maps do have a fair amount of overlap: The Northeast tends to spend a lot on health care and see better outcomes than the rest of the country. Southern states that spend less also look to get lower quality care.

But there are some interesting exceptions here: Utah has the lowest spending per person in health care, yet manages to have the 9th best outcomes in the country. Vermont nabs the top spot in health care outcomes, despite spending over $2,000 less per person than neighboring Massachusetts. Hawaii also spends relatively less and still cracks the top five states on quality. Alaska, meanwhile, spends a lot — $9,128 per person, second only to Massachusetts — but sees dismal results, coming in 35th on health outcomes.

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