By Ken Perez, vice president of healthcare policy and government affairs, Omnicell, Inc.
Discussions about the cost of healthcare in the United States often take the form of debates, pitting one sector against the other. Classic examples are health insurers (payers) versus hospitals and health systems (providers), and pharmaceutical manufacturers versus providers. Often at stake in these clashes are the relative sizes of the healthcare economic pie received by the different sectors.
Looking at healthcare through a societal lens helps one avoid participating in these debates and instead focus on macro issues. For years, how much the U.S. spends in total on healthcare—across all payers and for all healthcare—has been at the top of the macro issues list.
National health expenditures (NHE) are the universally accepted measure of that. On March 28, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) released the 2021-2030 National Health Expenditure report, which was prepared by the CMS Office of the Actuary.
How much did the U.S. in total spend on healthcare last year? In 2021, national health spending totaled $4.3 trillion, equal to 18.8% of the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP) and down from a record 19.7% of GDP in 2020 that reflected the significant spending incurred to respond to COVID-19. Because of the pandemic, NHE grew sharply (9.7%) from 2019 to 2020, and its growth slowed to 4.2% in 2021. Per capita health expenditures were $13,037 in 2021. To put that in perspective, last year, the U.S. spent almost $1,100 per month on healthcare for the average per person.
Comparisons with Other Countries
Since healthcare consumes almost a fifth of the nation’s GDP, one has to ask whether that is good or bad. One basis for answering that question is to compare U.S. healthcare spending with that of similarly advanced industrialized countries. Two measures are commonly used to perform that comparison: 1) healthcare spending as a percentage of GDP; and 2) per capital health expenditures.