It’s easy to blame subsidies and insurance providers for making healthcare expensive. Another possibility is that people simply prefer to spend on healthcare versus other needs. But how to isolate the impact of this possibility? From Vox:

Economists cannot strip Americans of their health coverage for the sake of a research paper. But what economists Liran Einav, Amy Finkelstein, and Atul Gupta were able to do is look at another group that has a health care system but low rates of insurance: pets.

Most American pets don’t have health insurance, which means that their owners foot the entire bill. Even so, spending on pet care has grown really quickly over the past two decades. In fact, it has gone up even more than health care spending.

Granted, this is growing from a far smaller base. Even assuming that all pet expenses go toward cats & dogs, Americans still only spend $350 per year per pet total, with some smaller portion of that as healthcare. Compare this to almost $10,000 per person on healthcare, and there’s clearly a ways to go before these are directly comparable. However, the growth appears to be from people spending more on pets (up 130% since 2000), rather than having more pets ( up 30% since 2000).