This paper uses new cross-country data to assess the relationship between public spending on health care and the health status of the poor. Data are drawn from two sources: (i) existing data on health status by income quintile tabulated from demographic health surveys in 44 countries; and (ii) our estimates of the health status of the poor in over 70 countries drawn from a new technique in decomposing social indicators. Our estimates confirm that the poor have significantly worse health status than the nonpoor and the regression results provide new evidence that public spending on health care matters more to them. However, the results suggest that increased public spending alone will not be sufficient to significantly improve health status. Copyright © 2002 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.