Reports graphically illustrate spending on dental, other health care

About Mary Otto

Mary Otto, a Washington, D.C.-based freelancer, is AHCJ's topic leader on oral health and the author of "Teeth: The Story of Beauty, Inequality, and the Struggle for Oral Health in America." She can be reached at mary@healthjournalism.org.

Photo: Rob Campbell via Flickr 

Photo: Rob Campbell via Flickr 

America spends a lot of money on dental care – roughly $111 billion a year – according to a new study by the California Health Care Foundation.

Yet that figure was just a tiny slice of the nation’s enormous health care pie, which cost $2.9 trillion in 2013 (the most recent year available) according to foundation’s report, Health Care Costs 101: Reaching a Spending Plateau?

Health care costs in the United States far exceed those of other developed countries, both in terms of per-capita expenditures and as a share of gross domestic product. Even so, growth in the nation’s health care spending actually has been slowing since 2009, the report’s authors noted.

Where dental care is concerned, spending constituted just 4 percent of overall costs. By comparison, hospital care commanded 32 percent; physician and clinical services received 20 percent and prescription drugs accounted for 9 percent of the pie.

Nursing care facilities claimed 5 percent, with categories such as medical products and home health care services getting smaller shares.

The report, which analyzed government data to detail how much was spent on health care, which services were purchased, and who paid, was amply illustrated with colorful graphs and, of course, pie charts.

Following the report’s release, the online dental publication DrBicuspid produced its own striking infographic that highlighted some of the dental findings.

The infographic illustrated that in some health care categories, such as hospital care and physician services, private insurance covers a larger share of the costs than out-of-pocket payments do. But when it comes to dental care, the reverse is true.

“For dental services, out-of-pocket expenses exceeded private insurance by more than 2:1,” the graphic proclaimed.

Also striking was the segment of the infographic detailing spending distribution in Medicaid and Medicare. In comparison to hospital care, dental services claimed just a tiny yellow sliver of the Medicaid section of the graph. Since routine dental care is not covered by Medicare, there was nothing to put on the Medicare section of the graph. Instead, the infographic carried these words.

“Dental services received zero percent of Medicare dollars in 2013.”

Sometimes an infographic can help illustrate concepts that words struggle to convey. Have you employed an infographic lately to help tell your story?

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