QALYs: is the value of treatment proportional to the size of the health gain?

Health Econ. 2010 May;19(5):596-607. doi: 10.1002/hec.1497.


In societal priority setting between health programs for different patient groups, many people are reluctant to discriminate too strongly between those who can benefit much from treatment and those who can benefit moderately. We suggest that this view of distributive fairness has a counterpart in personal valuations of gains in health. Such valuations may be influenced by psychological reference points and diminishing marginal utility such that the individual utility of care in patient groups with different potentials may be more similar than what conventional QALY estimates suggest. In interviews in three convenience samples, there is some support for the hypothesis. Most respondents do not think that desire for treatment is significantly less in those who stand to gain only moderately compared with those who stand to gain much - even when the treatment is associated with a mortality risk. When stating insurance preferences, a majority of subjects express a greater concern for avoiding the worst states in question than for maximising expected value for money in terms of treatment effects. The tendency applies to outcomes in terms of both quality and quantity of life. Choices between prefixed response options fit well with oral explanations of these choices.

MeSH terms

  • Cost-Benefit Analysis
  • Health Care Rationing / economics*
  • Health Care Rationing / ethics
  • Health Priorities / economics*
  • Health Priorities / ethics
  • Health Services Needs and Demand / economics
  • Health Services Needs and Demand / ethics
  • Humans
  • Insurance Benefits / economics
  • Insurance Benefits / ethics
  • Insurance, Health / economics*
  • Insurance, Health / ethics
  • Norway
  • Patient Preference / economics
  • Patient Preference / statistics & numerical data
  • Quality-Adjusted Life Years*
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • State Medicine / economics
  • State Medicine / standards