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The three most important health-care graphs in the world

By Ezra Klein,

The Kaiser Family Foundation has an excellent series of charts making the point that not only does the American health-care system spend much more than anyone else, but that spending has been growing much faster than everyone else’s, and is now so high that our government spends more on health care than the governments of countries with single-payer systems — and that’s true even though most of our health-care spending is private! But let’s start at the beginning. Here’s what we spend vs. what everyone else spends:

And here’s the growth in that spending over time. Note that in the 1970s, we were approximately equal to the rest of the world. It’s really in the ’80s and ’90s that the gap between us and everyone else opened up:

It’s interesting that Switzerland, which relies more heavily on private, or at least semi-private, insurers and cost sharing than any of the other European systems, also stands out for poor cost control, though not nearly as poor as ours.

But perhaps the piece de resistance is this chart, showing the percentage of gross domestic product that countries spend on private and public health-care expenditures. The United States spends more through the government than — deep breath — Japan, Australia, Norway, the United Kingdom, Spain, Italy, Canada or Switzerland:

In other words, we’re spending more on government-provided health care than most countries where government-provided health care is pretty much all there is. In the end, what’s remarkable about the American health-care system isn’t just how much we spend but how inefficiently we spend it. And I suspect that these charts are actually understating our spending, as I doubt that they capture the enormous cost of the tax break for employer-provided health insurance, which I doubt is classified as “spending” in their figures.

For more detail on some of the systems that are so effortlessly outperforming ours — including one that’s right here in the United States — head here.

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