The empirical evidence available for OECD countries suggests that economic factors play a major role and that demographic factors play a minor role in explaining differences in health care spending across countries. When countries are grouped on the basis of their health care systems, some significant cross-country differences result: countries with higher transfer rates (a larger share of collective financing) are not generally characterized by higher health care expenditures, and conversely, countries with a larger share of private financing (including higher coinsurance rates) do not have lower expenditures. Rather, the opposite holds true. Similar conclusions apply to the share of public versus private production of health goods. Furthermore, the results do not support the claims of those critics of universal public insurance systems who consider the expansion of the coverage to be a major source of expenditure growth. These findings cast serious doubt on the claim that cost containment can be achieved via market reforms that rely heavily on direct consumer payments and cost sharing as instruments of financing. A comparative analysis of the historic record of the United States, Canada, and the Federal Republic of Germany generally supports these conclusions; it also suggests that a greater degree of public penetration offers a better chance for control of health spending, particularly in periods of austerity. There is a strong presumption that health care systems relying on some overall control of spending generally are more cost-effective than those relying more on decentralized mechanisms of control. Services are more equitably distributed in relation to health and payment for health services is far more progressive in the former type of system.

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