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Health Ministries face huge challenges in ensuring that their citizens have access to high quality health care services at a time when our economies are still feeling the effects of the global economic crisis.  This challenge is compounded by the realities of aging populations, increasing costs, and rising expectations.  The OECD’s work on Health shows that the overall level of spending on health has continued to grow in most OECD countries since 2004.  This expenditure contributed to increases in the duration of life – which has increased by a full year on average in OECD countries – and improvements in the quality of care in many important areas.  But how do we ensure that we are getting value for our money?

Health spending accounted for 16.9% of GDP in the United States in 2012 – the highest share among OECD countries and more than 7½ percentage points above the OECD average of 9.3%. In contrast to most OECD countries, health spending in the United States is split evenly between public and private sources. In 2012, 48% of health spending in the United States was publicly financed, well below the average of 72% in OECD countries.

The OECD Health Committee provides members with valuable comparative data and information on health care, inputs, outputs, pricing and quality.  The OECD is one of the world’s largest and most reliable sources of comparable statistical, economic and social data. It monitors trends, collects data, analyses and forecasts economic development, and investigates evolving patterns in a broad range of public policy areas such as agriculture, development co-operation, education, employment, taxation and trade, science, technology, industry and innovation, in addition to environment.

Using these data, the OECD works with governments to understand what drives economic, social and environmental change. It also sets international standards on a wide range of things, from agriculture and tax to the safety of chemicals. Above all, drawing on facts and real-life experience, the OECD recommends policies designed to make the lives of ordinary people better.  Members have benefited in recent years from OECD work on “value for money” from our health spending, the economics of prevention; pharmaceutical policies, and the use of information technology in the health sector.

Drawing on the strategic direction provided by the Health Ministers, the OECD Health Committee is expected to do the following:

  • Expand its indicators to measure quality of care: The Forum on Quality of Care held just prior to the Health Ministerial highlighted the importance of collecting and using information on quality of care to improve health sector performance while providing appropriate privacy protection.
  • Build on its work on the economics of prevention: As populations age, the burden of chronic diseases grows. How can prevention programs – directed at curbing obesity, smoking and harmful use of alcohol – encourage healthier lifestyles and contain this trend?
  • Increase its research and collection of best practices for use of ICT in health systems: Health information and communication technologies can improve the coordination and efficiency of care, resulting in better outcomes at a better cost.
  • Evaluate the performance of mental health systems: Mental disorders account for a large and growing part of the burden of disease in OECD countries. Differences among systems for mental health provide an opportunity for cross-country learning and sharing of best practices.
  • Examine what governments can do to ensure that the health care workforce has the right skills for new jobs in health.