The One Graphic Proving How Much the U.S. Pays For Health Care — and How Little It Gets

The United States comes in at a measly 51st on a list of countries by life expectancy, at 78.62 years, below the combined expectancy of the European Union, which comes at 37th. The average life expectancy in the EU is only 1.24 years longer (79.86 years), but the cost of health care per person there is less than half of the cost in the U.S. Obamacare may not be America's best solution to the health care crisis that faces our nation, which contains over 47 million uninsured people, but it is certain that with rising prices comes uncertainty and an unsustainable system. 


According to PBS, the US spent $8,233 per person in 2012 on health care costs, which came out to a whopping 17.6% of GDP. Other wealthy industrialized countries such as France, Sweden, and the UK could potentially afford that kind of expenditure, but their universal health care systems allow them to negotiate with medical providers on such a large scale that it brings costs down significantly.

For example, the New York Times published an expose on a man who flew to Europe for a hip replacement instead of having the surgery done in his hometown in Colorado — where the artificial hip was manufactured — in order to find an affordable solution to his pain. The factory was selling the artificial hip for $13,000, and the American hospital was going to charge another $65,000 — before surgeons' fees — because insurance did not cover the procedure. Flying to Brussels for the surgery cost only $13,660 total, an enormous difference in price that only reinforces the need for reform.

There are a number of different methods for paying for universal health care, varying from a state-based single-payer system to a tiered system where the state takes some of the cost and individuals take the rest. In spite of the current government shutdown, it looks as though the United States will join the other 32 developed nations in having universal health care within its borders thanks to the insurance marketplace website that opened in the early hours of Tuesday.

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Kara Freedman

Kara studies international relations at Pomona College in sunny Southern California, and is interested in development and politics in West Africa and Latin America.

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