US spending largely driven by technology and high prices, according to a new Commonwealth Fund report

According to a new report by the Commonwealth Fund, health care spending in the U.S. far exceed that of other high-income countries, although spending growth has slowed in the U.S. and in most other countries in recent years.

The U.S. spends more public dollars on health care than all but two of the other countries.  Americans have relatively few hospital admissions and physician visits, but are greater users of expensive technologies like magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machines.  Despite its heavy investment in health care, the U.S. sees poorer results on several key health outcome measures such as life expectancy and the prevalence of chronic conditions. Mortality rates from cancer are low and have fallen more quickly in the U.S. than in other countries, but the reverse is true for mortality from ischemic heart disease. 

Prices for health care are notably higher in the U.S., potentially explaining a large part of the higher health spending. Higher spending appeared to be largely driven by greater use of medical technology and higher health care prices, rather than more frequent doctor visits or hospital admissions.

The Commonwealth Fund analysis draws upon data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and other cross-national analyses to compare health care spending, supply, utilization, prices, and health outcomes across 13 high-income countries: Australia, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Japan, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States. These data predate the major insurance provisions of the Affordable Care Act. In 2013, the U.S. spent far more on health care than these other countries.

David Squires and Chloe Anderson, The Commonwealth Fund