Study: U.S. Accounts for 41.7 Percent of All Health Care Spending Worldwide

Chris Gaetano
Published Date:
Apr 26, 2019

Despite making up only 4.4 percent of the global population, the United States accounts for 41.7 percent of all health care spending worldwide, according to a recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. It is the largest player in the 61 high-income countries that, collectively, made up 81 percent of all health care spending in 2016, as well as 16.6 percent of the global population. At the other extreme, said the JAMA, 48.9 percent of the global population lives in a lower-middle- or low-income country, but collectively account for just 3.3 percent of total health care spending. While prices tend to be lower in those countries, the study said this still falls short of what is needed to provide basic health care services in some lower-middle- or low-income countries. 

Lower-income countries were found to be highly reliant on foreign aid for health care expenses. While foreign aid makes up less than 1 percent of total global spending on health, it accounts for an average of 25.4 percent of health spending in lower-income countries; in some countries, foreign aid accounts for more than 50 percent. The JAMA said that this is unlikely to change anytime soon, as economic conditions in the poorest countries suggest that domestic spending will not be able to make up the gap, at least in the near term, and is unlikely to generate funds to meet ambitious health initiatives. 

With this in mind, the study said it was important that foreign health aid follow best established practices. For instance, it is important that such aid be provided in a predictable manner so that it can be available on a yearly basis for a defined time period, is complementary to broader domestic health system financing needs, and aligns with goals set by the people and governments of the countries in which it is provided. 

Such aid, the article notes, should not be viewed as purely altruistic, as wealthier countries have a vested interest in assisting health care efforts in poorer ones. The article observed that such aid plays a critical role in funding global public goods such as research and development to counter new infectious diseases, as well as developing tools for ensuring global pandemic preparedness. It is unrealistic, said the report, to expect these countries to be capable of funding such public goods themselves. 

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