The Singular Waste of America's Healthcare System in 1 Remarkable Chart

The U.S. spends far, far more per person than any other rich country on healthcare. We don't get more for it.
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Reuters

We are an exceptional nation. At least when it comes to healthcare spending.

We spend much more than any other rich country, but we certainly don't get more for it. We get less. We get about the same health outcomes, but don't cover everybody like other rich countries do. Now, there are a lot of statistics that show how singularly wasteful our healthcare system is, but the chart below, via Aaron Carroll, is maybe the most visually arresting. It compares life expectancies with healthcare spending per capita for rich and near-rich countries. There's a pretty predictable relationship, with diminishing returns for more spending—and then there's the U.S.

See that dot that's almost off the chart? We spend more than four times as much as the Czech Republic does per persona, and live about just as long.

The problem is everybody wants the system to change, but nobody wants their corner of it to change. Doctors don't want their pay to change. And patients don't want their coverage to change. Obamacare tries to change both at the margins, and even that is politically fraught.

But something has to change. We can't afford our healthcare exceptionalism.

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Matthew O'Brien

Matthew O'Brien is a former senior associate editor at The Atlantic, covering business and economics.

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