Study: U.S. social spending on par with other countries, but an outlier in health spending

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A new study compares U.S. spending on health and social services to other countries. (Pixabay)

A new study takes a look at how the U.S. stacks up to other developed countries on healthcare and social spending.

Researchers led by a team at Harvard University found that in 2015, the U.S. spent about 16% of its gross domestic product (GDP) on social services, slightly less than the 17% average across Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries. 

However, the U.S. also spent more on average on healthcare than other OECD countries, the study found. In the U.S., health spending accounted for about 16% of GDP compared to 8% in other countries. 

RELATED: U.S. healthcare spending to grow 4% in 2019, report finds 

The researchers said they decided to undertake a review of the intersection of social spending and spending on healthcare because spending more on social services is touted as a solution to rising healthcare costs. 

“As our results show, while the U.S. is an outlier in terms of healthcare spending, its social spending is very close to the OECD average,” the researchers wrote. 

One factor to note, the researchers said, is that social spending on healthcare in the U.S. is concentrated among the elderly and often comes from private sources. As such, they did not dismiss the idea that growing social spending could improve access or affordability for some populations. 

“Across the OECD, we observed that countries that spend more on social services tended to spend more on healthcare,” they said. “[However,] these findings should not be interpreted as suggesting that social spending might not be effective at lowering healthcare costs for subpopulations.” 

RELATED: Private insurance accounted for 42% of drug spend in 2017—KFF 

Rising healthcare costs is one of the key issues under debate in the industry today and is a hot-button topic among politicians as well. As the Democratic primary race has heated up, so too has the discussion around ways to ease cost pressures on consumers, including a “Medicare-for-All” system. 

Healthcare spending growth has slowed, but it remains at about 18% of GDP, according to recent data from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. Healthcare spending topped $3.5 trillion in 2017, or $10,739 per capita.