This paper is based upon an extensive review of 71 willingness-to-pay (WTP) surveys of health and health care published in English during the period 1985--1998. The aim of the paper is to outline the arguments advanced for the superiority of WTP over quality-adjusted-life-years (QALYs) as a measure of benefit of health care programmes, and to review how empirical WTP studies adhere to their implications. An important argument is that WTP enables a more comprehensive valuation of benefits than QALYs. Our main focus is therefore to provide a careful review of the scenario descriptions used in the surveys, according to which types of benefits are being valued, and how comprehensively the descriptions are presented. Furthermore, the 'cost-benefit argument', that WTP can assist in improving social efficiency, is discussed before we inquire into the extent to which the studies actually compare WTP with social costs.
Copyright 2001 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.