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Noah Smith

The World Doesn't Mooch Off U.S. Health-Care Research

There's no way that spending on innovation accounts for America's ruinously high medical costs.
A subsidy to other countries?

A subsidy to other countries?

Photographer: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

The economics of health care is a devilishly complicated subject. Between the complexity of the market, the degree of regulation and the unusual nature of the things being sold, the topic is so vast that any single economist is practically incapable of grasping the whole picture. That’s why I’m skeptical of arguments that rely strongly on economic theory. Unlike the market for oranges or blue jeans, health care defies simple theoretical analysis. Debates between advocates of government-centered and free-market systems tend, out of necessity, to focus on only a few points and leave much of the picture unaddressed.

To me, a much more compelling argument is simply to look around the world at the various health-care systems that have been tried. One system stands out from all the others in the developed world -- that of the U.S. Most countries have some form of universal health care. The U.S., however, up until the advent of Obamacare, allowed most people to buy or not buy insurance as they chose or were able. The results seem clear -- Americans pay way too much for their health care. In dollar terms, the U.S. spends more than anyone except Switzerland and Norway: