This paper addresses the question whether within the European Community a higher national level of health care expenditure is associated with a larger degree of success in eliminating mortality from preventable and curable conditions. An aggregate measure of mortality from 12 amenable conditions was derived, incorporating an adjustment for the level of socio-economic development. In 1980-84, between country variation in this measure was almost 2-fold and showed surprising patterns. Rates are relatively low in Greece, The Netherlands and Denmark, and relatively high in Portugal, Italy and Germany. There was no association at all between this measure and the level of health care expenditure. These disturbing findings, which suggest substantial variation in the cost-effectiveness of different health service systems, warrant further investigation.