Fact-checking Sanders’ claim that U.S. spends 3 times per capita what the U.K. spends on health care

By Jon Greenberg
PolitiFact, December 20, 2015

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., says the best solution to address problems in the United States’ health care system is to guarantee every American access to health care as a right.

Speaking at the New Hampshire Democratic presidential debate, Sanders continued to express support for a single-payer health care system that is popular throughout much of the rest of the world.

To make his point, Sanders compared health care costs between the United States and two other Western nations — the United Kingdom and France.

“Why is it that we spend almost three times per capita as to what they spend in the U.K. —  50 percent more than what they pay in France?” Sanders asked. “The insurance companies, the drug companies are bribing the United States Congress. We need to pass a Medicare-for-all single-payer system.”

Sanders’ numbers are arresting and largely correct.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development has the data for all three nations.

Total per capita spending:

$8,713 – United States
$3,234 – United Kingdom
$4,123 – France

Do the math, and total U.S. spending is about 2.7 times what they spend in the United Kingdom per person, and a bit over twice what they spend per person in France. Everything is measured in dollars, and the data are from 2013.

Sanders’ claim in this case is more accurate than more sweeping versions he has made in the past. In 2009 and again in 2015, he claimed that the United States spends twice as much per capita on health care as any other country. Those claims are overly broad.

Our ruling

Sanders said that the United States spends almost three times on health care per capita what is spent in the United Kingdom and about double what they spend in France. The numbers from an independent, reliable source back that up.

We rate this statement True.

http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2015/dec/20/bernie-s/fact-checking-bernie-sanders-claim-us-spends-three/

***

Health at a Glance 2015

OECD

In 2013, the United States continued to outspend all other OECD countries by a wide margin, with the equivalent of USD 8,713 for each US resident. This level of health spending is two-and-a-half times the average of all OECD countries (USD 3,453).

http://www.keepeek.com/Digital-Asset-Management/oecd/social-issues-migration-health/health-at-a-glance-2015_health_glance-2015-en#page165

In the Democratic debate this past weekend, Bernie Sanders said, “Why is it that we spend almost three times per capita as to what they spend in the U.K., 50 percent more than what they pay in France… The insurance companies, the drug companies are bribing the United States Congress. We need to pass a Medicare-for-all single-payer system.” In response, PolitiFact wrote, “Sanders’ numbers are arresting and largely correct.”

Although single payer supporters are very familiar with these numbers, it is a welcome change that a source such as PolitiFact finds these numbers to be “arresting” and largely correct, and thus they rate this statement as True.

Another line that Sanders frequently uses is that we spend twice as much on health care as any other country. PolitiFact has twice rated this as False. Technically they are correct. In 2013, we spent over two-and-a-half times the average of OECD countries, but there are some that spent more than half of what we do. Sen. Sanders trips on his words by saying “any other country” instead of “average of other countries.”

Nevertheless, in the two previous articles, PolitiFact trumpeted the fact that his statement was False (though in the second version they buried in the text the fact that fine tuning his talking point would have made it accurate).

Spending on health care that is more than two-and-a-half times the average OECD nation is a very impressive number, and yet PolitiFact buried this behind their stamp of False.

On today’s PolitiFact we can give them a True. On the two previous articles we can give them a rating of “Technically True but Highly Misleading” simply because they swamped the important and accurate fact about how much more we spend on health care that Sen. Sanders was attempting to convey.