Issue Brief


Health Care Measures in the OECD: How Does the U.S. Measure Up?

International Affairs Issue Brief

Publish Date: June  01,  2009


The United States spent $1.7 trillion on health care in 2006, which at $6,719 per capita was twice the average of OECD countries. By 2017, the United States is projected to spend as much as $4 trillion annually on health care, equal to 20% of gross domestic product. The higher per-capita spending has not led to better quality of health care, as evidenced by the World Health Report in 2000, which ranked the United States 37th out of 191 countries in terms of performance and 72nd on overall level of health. The poorer overall level of health is also evident in life expectancy.  Of the OECD countries noted here, the United States had the lowest life expectancy at 77.8 years, compared to an average of 80.2 years.

Key Findings

While the United States' public expenditures on health care are comparable to OECD counterparts (although generally covering only people 65 and over and those with low income), private spending dramatically exceeds rates in other countries. And with cost a prohibitive factor, unlike other OECD nations with universal or near-universal health care coverage, more than 45.7 million Americans (18%) had no health insurance in 2007. The United States also faces the results of inadequate access, both among those with and without health insurance, as the availability of medical personnel and facilities is below the levels of other nations. A contributing factor to greater spending with poorer results may be a consequence of the amount of spending on administrative costs, as evidenced in the chart here.

 Further Reading / Sources

World Health Organization, The World Health Report 2000; World Health Statistics 2009,

The Commonwealth Fund, International Health Policy

OECD Health Data 2008: Statistics and Indicators for 30 Countries, December 10, 2008,