Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont is once again saying on the campaign trail and in interviews that the US spends twice as much on health care, per capita, as any other country in the world.
It’s a claim he has been making since at least 2009, when PolitiFact noted that it was false. He made it again in 2015, when PolitiFact noted that it was still false.
Facts First: It’s still false now. The US does spend the highest amount on health care per capita of any Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development country, but not double every single one.
The claim has been a staple of Sanders’ rhetoric during his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination.
He tweeted in April that, despite the failings of the US system, “we still spend twice as much per capita on health care than any other country.” He said in a CBS interview last week, “We are now spending twice as much per capita on health care as do the people of any other country.” He said on CNN in June, “Right now, we spend twice as much per capita on health care as do the people of any other nation.”
According to 2018 estimates from the OECD, a primary source of data on health spending for wealthy countries, the US spent $10,586 per person last year. Switzerland ($7,317 per person), Norway ($6,187 per person) and Germany ($5,986 per person) were substantially above half the US level. Sweden ($5,447 per person), Austria ($5,395 per person) and Denmark ($5,299 per person) were very slightly above half.
The situation was similar for 2017, the last year for which the OECD has hard data. The US spent $10,207 per person; Switzerland spent $7,147, Norway $6,064, Germany $5,848, Austria $5,270, Sweden $5,264 and the Netherlands $5,155.
Those figures use current prices and account for purchasing power. Sanders’ claim is also incorrect using other kinds of OECD figures for individual countries.
Sanders could have accurately said the US spends more than twice the average for OECD countries, which was an estimated $3,992 in 2018 and a firmer $3,854 in 2017. The Sanders’ campaign said Saturday that he was indeed referring to OECD averages and medians, noting that a CNN article pointed out US health spending was more than twice the median for 2016.
“Compared to other major developed countries, we spend exorbitantly more on health care because of the greed of insurance and pharmaceutical companies, and as president he will pass Medicare for All to finally make health care a human right,” said campaign spokesman Josh Orton.