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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Sanders Hypes Health Spending

Sen. Bernie Sanders said that the United States spends “almost twice as much per capita on health care as do the people of any other country.” He’s wrong about that.

The U.S. spends more than twice as much per capita as the average amount spent by other developed nations, but it doesn’t spend twice as much as every one of them.

Sanders, an independent who is running for the Democratic presidential nomination, made the claim during his soapbox speech at the Iowa State Fair on Aug. 15.

He said that despite the Affordable Care Act, there are still millions of U.S. residents who lack health insurance, even though the country spends almost double what any other nation does for health care. (Jump to 10:55 in the video to hear his statement.)

Sanders, Aug. 15: It makes no sense to me that despite the gains of the Affordable Care Act, we continue to have 35 million people uninsured. And many of you are under-insured, right? High deductibles, high copayments. And yet, after all of that, we end up spending almost twice as much per capita on health care as do the people of any other country. That’s wrong. That has got to change.

But it’s Sanders who needs to change his talking point.


We contacted the senator’s campaign to get his source, but haven’t received a response.

The U.S. spent $8,713 per capita in 2013, according to the most recent data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. That’s far more than most other developed nations, and also more than double the OECD average of $3,453 per capita.

So Sanders has a point that the U.S. spends a lot more on health care than other nations. But he went too far in saying it spends twice as much as any other country.

After the U.S., Switzerland ($6,325 per capita) and Norway ($5,862 per capita) spent the most on health care in 2013, and the U.S. didn’t spend 100 percent more than either nation. The U.S. also didn’t spend twice as much as the Netherlands ($5,131 per capita), Sweden ($4,904 per capita) or Germany ($4,819 per capita).

We wrote about a similar claim from Barack Obama in 2008, when he was running for president. Obama was wrong then, and Sanders is wrong now.

— D’Angelo Gore