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Editorial
March 13, 2018

Challenges in Understanding Differences in Health Care Spending Between the United States and Other High-Income Countries

Author Affiliations
  • 1Harris School of Public Policy, University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois
  • 2Harvard Kennedy School, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts
  • 3Harvard Business School, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts
JAMA. 2018;319(10):986-987. doi:10.1001/jama.2018.1152

In this issue of JAMA, Papanicolas and colleagues report an important set of findings that aim to inform a crucial debate: what drives differences in health care spending and what are the implications for policies aimed at controlling it?1 The authors compared spending and various aspects of the US health care system with those in 7 European countries, Canada, Australia, and Japan and report that in 2016, health care spending in the United States accounted for 17.8% of gross domestic product and that annual per capita health care spending in the United States was nearly double that in the other countries ($9403 in the United States vs a range of $3377 to $6808 in the other countries). However, decomposing differences in health care spending into price and quantity is more difficult than it might seem, and there are important challenges in drawing policy inferences from such analyses.

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