When Americans see these data they are usually incredulous that Europeans submit to such seemingly oppressive tax levels. Conservatives, in particular, tend to view freedom as a fixed sum: the bigger government is as a share of G.D.P., the less freedom there is for the people (if government consumes, say, 40 percent of G.D.P., then people are only 60 percent free). . . .
But O.E.C.D. data show that Americans pay vastly more for health care than the residents of any other major country. In 2008, we paid 16 percent of G.D.P. in total health care costs, public and private combined. The people with the next heaviest health care burden were the French, who paid 11.2 percent of G.D.P. Indeed, at 7.4 percent of G.D.P., the governmental share of health spending in the United States is about the same as total health care costs in many other countries, including (as a percentage of G.D.P.) Luxembourg (6.8 percent), Israel (7.8 percent), Japan (8.1 percent), Britain (8.4 percent) and Norway (8.5 percent).
In other words, if we had a health care system like those in most developed countries, we could, in effect, give every American an increase in their disposable income of 8 percent of G.D.P. – about what they pay in federal income taxes – and have health care no worse than they have in Britain or Japan. It would be like abolishing the federal income tax in terms of allowing people to spend more of their income on something other than health care.
Because most people have little more choice about medical spending than they do about the taxes they pay, one can think of the two as being similar in nature. . . .
Looking at taxes alone, the burden in the United States is 25 percent below the O.E.C.D. average, but including the additional health costs Americans pay, the United States is just 4.7 percent below average."
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