US spends more on medical care per person than any country, yet life expectancy isn’t higher, Part I

Posted on July 31, 2012 by



One of my parents’ truisms and favorite sayings is, “You get what you pay for.”

They usually pull it out of their pockets when I’ve really cheaped out on something–and gotten dreck in exchange.

But the funny thing about healthcare in America is that it disproves what my parents have been trying to teach me all these long years, for here, it seems, you pay a lot–and don’t get all that much in return.

This post was inspired by a graphic I just couldn’t pass by, pointed out by Andrew at My Lymphoma Journey, whose source I tracked down to National Geographic Magazine.

You’ve got a lot going on in that visual, but it’s hard to miss the first point, which is that the United States spends so vastly much more on medical care per person that  it’s literally ‘off the charts’ (by 2009 spending was almost $8000 per person, so per capita financial output just continues to grow). But don’t overlook a second major component. Where the blue lines end on the right indicates the life expectancy score of that country.

So while it would seem obvious–if my parents are correct–that a country that spends like the United States should had the highest life expectancy, you can see that we score not just below the countries that spend an ‘average’ amount of money on healthcare. Oh no. We’re behind countries that spend below average amounts of money, too, placing us behind countries like Spain, Japan, New Zealand, Portugal, and–and this really hurts–South Korea, which spends $1688 per person for health care, over four times less than what we spend.

It seems fairly inexplicable, so we’re lucky to have researchers who’ve checked into this conundrum for us–and figured out who things turned out so topsy turvey.

Let’s reconvene tomorrow for an explanation of how, sometimes, you really don’t get what you pay for.


Posted in: Health Care, Research