Man talking to the doctor

A paradigm shift in the global cost of healthcare

PUBLISHED: 18 May 2023 | LAST UPDATED: 4 December 2023

No two countries are the same. That’s one of the reasons so many of us choose to travel the world or start a new life overseas. We want to discover different cultures, explore different opportunities and experience a different way of life.

While these differences are what make every journey so unique and worthwhile, they can also pose certain challenges. Particularly when it comes to healthcare.

A world of difference

Every country has its own approach to providing medical care and treatment, both for citizens and visitors. 

If you move to France, for example, you can register for public healthcare after you’ve lived there for three months. But in Singapore, public healthcare is only available to citizens and long-term permanent residents. Thailand, meanwhile, has public healthcare but it’s only accessible to expats through an employer, while in Sweden, all residents are eligible for subsidised healthcare, including expats. 

So, it’s fair to say that, just as no two countries are the same, no two healthcare systems are the same either.


The global cost of healthcare

While healthcare varies from country to country in terms of quality, accessibility and administration, one of the main differences has always been the cost. No operation or course of treatment is ever cheap, but you might be surprised by how much costs can differ between countries.

For example, the projected cost of a hip replacement in France in 2023 (through AXA Global Healthcare’s AXA Select network) is around $22,407.70. The same operation in Belgium is expected to cost almost half that amount, at around $12,420.36, while in the USA it could be a lot more. It varies from state to state, but the projected average price of a total hip replacement in the USA in 2023 is around $39,313.18 – much higher than in other regions of the world.

For a major operation, such as heart bypass (off-pump coronary artery bypass) surgery, which improves blood flow to the heart, the cost can be a lot higher. The projected cost of this surgery in the USA is $95,282.26, compared to $29,470.06 in the UK – a difference of a staggering $65,812.20.


The rising cost of healthcare

As with any product or service, the cost of healthcare is affected by the availability and quality of the procedure or service in question. ‘Healthcare’ is also a very broad term, covering everything from a GP visit to major surgery, so the associated costs usually reflect the level of care. But in general, there’s one thing that most nations have in common when it comes to the cost of healthcare. It’s going up.

Healthcare costs have been rising steadily since the 1960s, but over the last few years there’s been a paradigm shift in the cost of healthcare across the globe.

And while some parts of the world might experience a greater shift than others, on the whole we’re seeing an unprecedented rise in the price of healthcare services, procedures and appointments.

Comparing costs – then and now

In 2019 to 2020 for example, the average cost of an overnight hospital stay in Nigeria was $291.92 per night. In 2023, the projected cost is $447.30. In Thailand, the average price is projected to go up from $744.12 to around $933.89, while in the UK it could increase by over $264, from $1,030.32 in 2020 to $1,295.40 in 2023.

For more examples of how and why healthcare costs are changing, check out our list of the 10 things you need to know about the global cost of healthcare.

Why are costs rising so much?

When examining projected healthcare prices for 2023, and looking back over the previous few years, it’s not difficult to identify a number of key factors that played a part in bringing about this price shift.

The global pandemic, of course, had a significant and lasting impact on healthcare costs. With fewer people able to access services during lockdown, many providers suffered significant losses, which saw prices rise as a result. At the same time, the backlog of patients in need of help meant that resources were stretched while demand was high.

During the pandemic, import and export also became much more expensive, impacting the cost of medical equipment and medicine. This situation continued long after the world reopened as fuel costs soared.

Technology also played a part. The pandemic sped up the development of an already growing market of digital healthcare services. As a result, the cost of face-to-face services increased to cover overheads.

There are plenty of other competing influences that continue to affect medical costs. To better understand how prices are affected and how they’re changing, check out our list of 10 things you need to know about the global cost of healthcare.

The information in this article is correct at the time of publishing.

All 2023 costs are projections that have been calculated based on estimated medical inflation and medical insurers’ cost data from 2020. All dollar amounts are in US dollars. All figures represent an average cost per country, based on the available data for each treatment. Data was gathered in the local currency and converted to US dollars using Currency rates correct as of March 2023.