by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
The question often arises, “What is heath care reform and why do we need it?” The answer is almost always something like: The U.S. spends more than any other industrialized country on health care, but gets worse-quality health care. And, the U.S. is the only country that doesn’t provide universal coverage to all of its citizens.
Each of these claims is technically true, but also very misleading. When you look at the data, the picture gets far more nuanced. And the alleged advantages foreign countries have over the U.S. start to dissipate.
One common measure of health care systems is to compare how much each country spends on health care as a share of its total economy, or gross domestic product (GDP).
On that score, the U.S. is at the high end. More than 17% of the nation’s GDP is going to health care. That’s far above the next country, Switzerland. It devotes a little more than 12% of its GDP to health care, according to data from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. …
… So, no question, the U.S. spends more on health care. Whether that is “too much” is far from clear. The U.S. also gives far more to charities than any other nation in the world. According to the Charities Aid Foundation, charitable donations in the U.S. equals 1.44% of GDP. The next closest country is New Zealand, at 0.79%. Does that mean the U.S. gives “too much” to charity? …
… Another common misperception is that in other countries, their governments cover the cost of health care, with everyone covered under a national “universal” health plan.
The fact is that every country — even communist China — relies on a mix of public and private payers, as well as out-of-pocket spending, to cover the cost of care. There are, of course, differences in the share covered by these entities. But no country relies 100% on government to pay for health care.