Nick Weininger wonders

In debates about health care it is often assumed by all sides that the US has the least socialist, most free-market health care system of any modern developed country…

But is that premise true?

…It seems clear to me that the right criteria for judging how free-market or socialized health care is in a country are:

1. the percentage of GDP (not of total health expenditures) that the government spends on health care

2. the level of regulation the government applies to private health care providers: that is, the degree of government-imposed restriction on whom they can treat in what ways, how much they can charge for that treatment, etc.

He points out that as a percent of GDP, what the U.S. government spends on health care is close to the median for OECD countries.

I suspect that the health care accounts understate government payment for health care in some important ways.

First of all, I believe that when government workers are reimbursed for health care, this is counted as “private” insurance payments. (Please use the comments section to confirm or contradict this.) If so, then a large percentage of “private” health insurance is really government funded.

Second, there is the tax subsidy for employer-provided health insurance. In a sense, the government is funding some of those health care reimbursements, also.

On the issue of regulation, I would rate systems like Canada or the UK as more regulated than the U.S., because doctors work for the government there.

My favorite line about whether the U.S. represents free market heatlh care was what Alex Tabarrok wrote.