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What Is Health Economics?

Health Economics is an applied field of study that allows for the systematic and rigorous
examination of the problems faced in promoting health for all. By applying economic theories
of consumer, producer and social choice, health economics aims to understand the behavior of
individuals, health care providers, public and private organizations, and governments in

It is used to promote health through the study of health care providers, hospitals and clinics,
managed care and public health promotion activities. Health economists apply the theories of
production, efficiency, disparities, competition, and regulation to better inform the public and
private sector on the most efficient, or cost-effective, and equitable course of action. Such
research can include the economic evaluation of new technologies, as well as the study of
appropriate prices, anti-trust policy, optimal public and private investment, and strategic

Health economics can also be used to evaluate how certain social problems, such as market
failure and inequitable allocation of resources, can impact on the health of a community or
population. Health economics can then be used to directly inform government on the best
course of action with regards to regulation, national health packages, defining health insurance
packages and other national health programs.

Health economics is a branch of economics concerned with issues related to efficiency,

effectiveness, value and behavior in the production and consumption of health and healthcare.
In broad terms, health economists study the functioning of healthcare systems and health-
affecting behaviors such as smoking.

A seminal 1963 article by Kenneth Arrow, often credited with giving rise to health economics as
a discipline, drew conceptual distinctions between health and other goods.[1] Factors that
distinguish health economics from other areas include extensive government,
intractable uncertainty in several dimensions, asymmetric information, barriers to
entry, externalities and the presence of a third-party agent.[2] In healthcare, the third-party
agent is the physician, who makes purchasing decisions (e.g., whether to order a lab test,
prescribe a medication, perform a surgery, etc.) while being insulated from the price of the
product or service.

Health economists evaluate multiple types of financial information: costs, charges and
Uncertainty is intrinsic to health, both in patient outcomes and financial concerns. The
knowledge gap that exists between a physician and a patient creates a situation of distinct
advantage for the physician, which is called asymmetric information.

Externalities arise frequently when considering health and health care, notably in the context of
infectious disease. For example, making an effort to avoid catching the common cold affects
people other than the decision maker.

Healthcare Demand
The demand for healthcare is a derived demand from the demand for health. Healthcare is
demanded as a means for consumers to achieve a larger stock of "health capital." The demand
for health is unlike most other goods because individuals allocate resources in order to both
consume and produce health.

The above description gives three roles of persons in health economics. The World Health
Report states that people take four roles in the healthcare:

1. Contributors
2. Citizens
3. Provider
4. Consumers

Healthcare markets
 The five health markets typically analyzed are:
 Healthcare financing market
 Physician and nurses services market
 Institutional services market
 Input factors markets
 Professional education market

Although assumptions of textbook models of economic markets apply reasonably well to healthcare
markets, there are important deviations. Many states have created pools in which relatively healthy
enrollees subsidize the care of the rest. Insurers must cope with adverse selection which occurs when
they are unable to fully predict the medical expenses of enrollees; adverse selection can destroy the risk
pool. Features of insurance market risk pools, such as group purchases, preferential selection ("cherry-
picking"), and preexisting condition exclusions are meant to cope with adverse selection.

Competitive equilibrium in the five health markets

While the nature of healthcare as a private good is preserved in the last three markets,
market failures occur in the financing and delivery markets due to two reasons:
(1) Perfect information about price products is not a viable assumption

(2) Various barriers of entry exist in the financing markets (i.e. monopoly formations in the
insurance industry)

Ideological bias in the debate about the financing and delivery

health markets
The healthcare debate in public policy is often informed by ideology and not sound
economic theory. Often, politicians subscribe to a moral order system or belief about the
role of governments in public life that guides biases towards provision of health care as well.
The ideological spectrum spans: individual savings accounts and catastrophic coverage, tax
credit or voucher programs combined with group purchasing arrangements, and expansions
of public-sector health insurance. These approaches are advocated by healthcare
conservatives, moderates and liberals, respectively.