US is an outlier in healthcare spending, but not social services spending

A new study debunks the theory that the United States' healthcare spending is high because it doesn't invest enough in social services.

Published in Health Affairs, the study compares the healthcare spending and social spending of 35 countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Researchers used data from 1980 to 2015.

It is well-known the U.S. spends more than other countries on healthcare, and this study confirms that. It shows the U.S. spends 16.8 percent of gross domestic product on healthcare, while the average OECD country spends 8.8 percent of GDP on healthcare.

However, U.S. social spending was nearly on par with the average spent by other countries. The U.S. spends 16.1 percent of GDP on social services, compared to the OECD average of 17 percent. However, when education is included as a social service, U.S. spending (19.7 percent of GDP) is above average (17.7 percent).

U.S. social spending differed from the average in that more was spent on the elderly and it was more likely to come from private sources, according to the study.

"Across the OECD, we observed that countries that spent more on social programs tended to spend more on healthcare," the authors wrote. "[However,] these findings should not be interpreted as suggesting that social spending might not be effective at lowering healthcare costs for subpopulations."


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