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One of the limitations of cross-country health expenditure analysis refers to the fact that the financing, the internal organization and political restraints of health care decision-making are country-specific and heterogeneous. Yet, a way through is to examine the influence of such effects in those countries that have undertaken decentralization processes. In such a setting, it is possible to examine potential expenditure spillovers across the geography of a country as well as the influence of the political ideology of regional incumbents and institutional factors on public health expenditure. This paper examines the determinants of public health expenditure within Spanish region-states (Autonomous Communities, ACs), most of them subject to similar financing structures although exhibiting significant heterogeneity as a result of the increasing decentralization, region-specific political factors along with different use of health care inputs, economic dimension and spatial interactions. Copyright © 2006 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.