Health policies and data

Growth in health spending slows in many OECD countries, according to OECD Health Data 2008


26/06/2008 - A combination of slower growth in spending on healthcare and expanding economies has led to a stabilisation of health spending as a proportion of GDP in many OECD countries, according to OECD Health Data 2008.

In 2006, the latest year for which comparable data are available, health spending on average across OECD countries grew in real terms by just over 3%, the lowest rate since 1997.  Looking at the trend during this decade, health expenditure grew rapidly in many countries between 2000 and 2003, with an annual average growth rate of 6.2% over that period.  Since 2003, the rise in health expenditure has slowed, however, to an average of 3.6% per year.

The health expenditure share of GDP on average across OECD countries remained unchanged in 2006 compared with 2005, at 8.9%.  In several countries, the percentage of GDP devoted to health actually fell slightly between 2005 and 2006, while in others it stabilised. Overall, this marked a pause in a long-term rising trend that has seen health spending rise from 6.6% of GDP on average in OECD countries in 1980.

In many countries, slower growth in health spending in recent years has been aided by a slowing in the growth of pharmaceutical spending.  In 2006, pharmaceutical spending on average across OECD countries increased by only 2% in real terms, compared with growth rates of 6% to 7% per year between 2000 and 2003 and 3% to 3.5% per year over 2004 and 2005.

Public spending on prescription drugs in the United States increased by 30% in 2006, because of the introduction of the new Medicare drug programme for the elderly and the disabled.  This increase in public spending was partly offset by a reduction of 4% in private spending for prescribed drugs. The public share of pharmaceutical spending increased from 24% in 2005 to 30% in 2006, but it is still the second lowest share among OECD countries.  Overall, in the United States, drug spending rose by 4.5% in real terms in 2006 after a 2.2% increase in 2005.

The United States led in terms of total drug expenditure per capita, including both prescribed and non-prescribed drugs at US$843 per person in 2006, followed by Canada, Belgium and France. At the other end of the scale, Mexico, Poland, Denmark and New Zealand spent the least, with spending ranging from US$182 per person in Mexico to US$303 in New Zealand. Variations in drug spending across countries reflect differences in prices and consumption as well as how fast and widely new and often more expensive drugs are put on the market.

OECD Health Data 2008 includes new tool to analyse health expenditure

The online edition of OECD Health Data 2008 includes, for the first time, the main tables derived from the joint OECD, Eurostat and WHO data collection of Health Accounts, allowing more detailed analyses of health expenditure by types of services and goods, by health care providers and by financing sources.

OECD Health Data is the most comprehensive source of comparable statistics on health and health systems across the 30 OECD countries. It can be used for comparative analyses of:

  • Health status
  • Non-medical determinants of health (including smoking and obesity)
  • Health care resources and utilisation
  • Long-term care resources and utilisation
  • Expenditure and financing of health care
  • Social protection (including public and private health insurance coverage)
  • Pharmaceutical consumption.

OECD Health Data 2008 is available online to subscribers and accredited journalists via SourceOECD, the OECD online library. It is also available to purchase on CD-ROM (in single-user or network installations). The database can be queried in English, French, German, Italian and Spanish.  Japanese and Russian are available exclusively in the online version.  For sales information, please contact or visit the OECD Online Bookshop.

For further information, journalists are invited to contact the OECD’s Media Division (tel. + 33 1 45 24 97 00). For comment about the content of the database, please contact Gaétan Lafortune (tel. + 33 1 45 24 92 67 or or Elizabeth Docteur (tel. + 33 1 45 24 76 03 or in the OECD Health Division.

For more information, please go to

List of table and charts

Table 1:  Health expenditure in OECD countries, 2000 to 2006

Chart 1:  Real annual growth rates in health expenditure and GDP, OECD average, 2000 to 2006

Chart 2:  Health expenditure as a share of GDP, 2006

Chart 3:  Pharmaceutical expenditure per capita, 2006


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