Disparate global health spending on the horizon, study says

Global health spending is likely to increase over the next 20 years, according to a new study. (jansucko/iStock/Getty)

Global health spending is projected to increase significantly over the next 20 years, but spending rates will likely vary widely between countries, even those of similar size and gross domestic product, a new study has found.

Researchers at the University of Washington mapped health spending trends around the world and found huge variation in how much different countries would likely spend, according to data published in The Lancet. For instance, the United States and United Arab Emirates are projected to have similar gross domestic product by 2040, but the U.S. is projected to spend 18.5% of its GDP on healthcare compared to just 4.7% in the UAE.

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Overall, the researchers estimate that if current trends continue, global health spending will increase from $9.2 trillion in 2014 to $24.5 trillion by 2040, according to the study. Researchers say the findings suggest that disparities in health spending between richer and poorer countries are also likely to grow.

"Our study shows that health spending is likely to increase rapidly in high-income countries, while low-income countries, where it is needed the most, are expected to see relatively slow growth," Joseph Dieleman, Ph.D., an assistant professor at UW’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation and the primary author of the study, said in announcement.

A study released in tandem by the same team examines current global health spending trends, comparing spending over two decades between 1995 and 2014. The U.S. topped the list in per capita healthcare spending, according to the study, spending more than $9,200 per person in 2014. Somalia spent the least, just $33 per capita. In the U.S., that number has continued to increase and nearly reached $10,000 per capita in 2015.

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In 26 countries, more than 50% of healthcare spending was out-of-pocket in 2014, according to the study, while in 21 countries 10% or less of healthcare spending was out-of-pocket.

Patients in the poorest countries often face the highest out-of-pocket costs due to lack of government spending, Dieleman told National Public Radio in an interview, which may make those people forgo needed care. Or, if they do seek care, they may be forced into poverty, he said.