Public spendingincluding safety net insurance, tax exemptions and deductions, and subsidies for medical research and educationmade up roughly 56% of U.S. health expenditures, according to an analysis published online in the journal Health Affairs. The estimate, by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality economists Thomas Selden and Merrile Sing, shows public spending for those not in long-term care or other institutions was $752.9 billion in 2002, or $2,612 per person, on average.
Of that, the economists said that tax subsidies, which aid middle- and upper-income families to a greater degree than the poor, accounted for $214.8 billion, or nearly 30% of public spending. For those earning at least 400% of the federal poverty threshold, or $21,200 for a family of four, public spending covered 46% of expenditures. Thats compared with 80% for those with incomes that fall below the poverty level. The poor were more likely to receive means-tested public benefits, the authors said. Clearly, the distribution of overall public spending across income groups depends upon more than just the incidence of means-tested public insurance programs, the authors wrote.
Public spending for seniors easily outpaced aid for children. On average, seniors received $6,921 in 2002 compared with $1,225 for children. -- by Melanie Evans