How Much Does Each Country Spend on Healthcare?

With the US Affordable Care Act (ACA) and other health topics in the news lately, I wondered how much people spend on healthcare in various countries. Of course spending varies from person to person, so I decided to take a look at the average per capita spending in each country (it's not perfect, but it's still interesting!).

First, I decided to look around to see what's already out there. I found the following graph in a Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) publication. It was generally what I was looking for, but only showed a handful of countries, and wasn't the easiest to read.

I did a little digging, and found that similar data were available for several other countries too. So I downloaded the csv from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development webpage (, and read it into SAS.

Since I was including more countries in my graph, I knew that having a different color for each country was not going to work (it was already difficult to discern the 6 colors used in the original graph). Instead of using colors and a color legend, I added html hover-text with the country names to each line (you'll need to click the snapshot below, to see the interactive version), and labeled certain countries to provide some quick/easy reference points.


I liked my graph better than the original, but it was still difficult to compare the values in the 1970s and 80s. Since the graph showed current-dollar values, the more recent years had much higher values (because of inflation), which squished the values on the left side of the graph. I tried using the consumer price index (cpi) and converting all the values to constant (~1983) dollars, but I wasn't really confident that applying the US cpi to other countries was a valid thing to do. Also, I wasn't sure whether to use the cpi for all items, medical care, or something else.

Let's take a little intermission, while we think of a different way to visualize this data. Here's a picture that my friend Margie made for me (special, just for this blog). What better way to take a "closer look" at data, than to use a magnifying glass!?! Thanks Margie!

And now, with my mind cleared and thinking outside the box, I came up with a different way to graph the data. What I really wanted to do was compare the other countries with the US, therefore why not do something more direct, such as calculate the other countries' spending as a percent of the US spending! This way, I have a number that I can compare from year to year much more easily.


This graph shows that since about 1990, the other countries have spent less than 75% of what the US spent on per capita healthcare (most of them way less). If the US spends more, do we get more? If other countries spend less, do they get worse healthcare? I guess those are the big questions ... and hopefully I will find some data to answer those questions in an upcoming blog!

So, what are your theories and thoughts on healthcare, and why the US spends so much more per capita than the other countries? I wonder if there's a lot of variance on the per capita spending, depending on income level, and such? What's the "right amount" to spend, for an acceptable level of health care? Feel free to share your thoughts and suggestions in the comments section!

Robert Allison, The Graph Guy!, SAS

Robert Allison has worked at SAS for more than 20 years and is perhaps the foremost expert in creating custom graphs using SAS/GRAPH. His educational background is in computer science, and he holds a BS, MS, and PhD from North Carolina State University. He is the author of several conference papers, has won a few graphic competitions, and has written a book calledSAS/GRAPH: Beyond the Basics.

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Re: life expectancy
  • 10/31/2016 9:10:50 AM

@Broadway. Yet, most emergency room cases are about broken bones from falls, stitches for kitchen accidents, cold/flu, and the like.

Re: life expectancy
  • 10/30/2016 9:24:17 PM

Joe, if a majority of the cases that an ER is seeing involve car crashes and gunshots, that would definitely speak to their acumen as healthcare providers whether most of those cases end up walking out of their ER, or being taken to the basement morgue.

Re: life expectancy
  • 10/30/2016 10:54:48 AM

It would be revealing to see the costs attributed to the leading causes of death and see if there might be some hidden hints to how we could not only prevent such deaths but maybe better manage health costs around the various categories of health care.

Re: A lot less bang for the buck
  • 10/27/2016 12:08:18 PM

Maybe tease us up for what's next, graph-wise?  ;)

Re: life expectancy
  • 10/27/2016 12:07:36 PM

@PChaos: Of course, to be more fair, being able to help someone who has been potentially mortally injured in a traffic accident does depend on quality of healthcare -- but now we're really splitting hairs.

Besides, the stat speaks a lot more to our highway-vs.-rail ratio/infrastructure compared to those of other nations. 

Re: A lot less bang for the buck
  • 10/24/2016 10:30:25 PM

Wow! - Thanks for this extra research Lyndon!

Lots of interesting information, and possible topics for future graphs & blogs.


Re: one more comparison please
  • 10/24/2016 10:29:33 PM

alberalro - Costa Rica's in the graph, but you have to do a lot of mouse-hovering over the lines to see the country name. It's in the bottom section of the graph, where lots of lines overlap, and it's difficult to show values of overlapping lines in the hover-text. I looked it up in the original data table, and Costa Rica's US$ per capita for 2014 is $1394. 


one more comparison please
  • 10/24/2016 10:13:02 PM

Hello Robert,

You didn´t include any L.A country in your graphs. Would you please include the data for Costa Rica and show the new graph.  Just for curiosity. Thank you very much. 



Re: life expectancy
  • 10/24/2016 1:09:53 PM

I agree with @Joe on this one. We're evaluating the heathcare systems of varous nations. Excluding death that occurs traffic accidents and violence seems appropriate. (Not that those aren't problems - they are. Just not problems caused by heathcare.)

Re: life expectancy
  • 10/24/2016 5:16:19 AM

> that's a lot to discount

Sure, but it says a lot about both healthcare in the US and other aspects of life in the US.  Homicides and traffic-accident deaths usually cannot be fairly attributed to the quality of healthcare or access to healthcare as a primary contributor (if at all).

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