Spending more money, saving more lives? The relationship between avoidable mortality and healthcare spending in 14 countries

Eur J Health Econ. 2013 Jun;14(3):527-38. doi: 10.1007/s10198-012-0398-3. Epub 2012 Jun 8.


Healthcare expenditures rise as a share of GDP in most countries, raising questions regarding the value of further spending increases. Against this backdrop, we assessed the value of healthcare spending growth in 14 western countries between 1996 and 2006. We estimated macro-level health production functions using avoidable mortality as outcome measure. Avoidable mortality comprises deaths from certain conditions "that should not occur in the presence of timely and effective healthcare". We investigated the relationship between total avoidable mortality and healthcare spending using descriptive analyses and multiple regression models, focussing on within-country variation and growth rates. We aimed to take into account the role of potential confounders and dynamic effects such as time lags. Additionally, we explored a method to estimate macro-level cost-effectiveness. We found an average yearly avoidable mortality decline of 2.6-5.3% across countries. Simultaneously, healthcare spending rose between 1.9 and 5.9% per year. Most countries with above-average spending growth demonstrated above-average reductions in avoidable mortality. The regression models showed a significant association between contemporaneous and lagged healthcare spending and avoidable mortality. The time-trend, representing an exogenous shift of the health production function, reduced the impact of healthcare spending. After controlling for this time-trend and other confounders, i.e. demographic and socioeconomic variables, a statistically significant relationship between healthcare spending and avoidable mortality remained. We tentatively conclude that macro-level healthcare spending increases provided value for money, at least for the disease groups, countries and years included in this study.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Distribution
  • Aged
  • Aging
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Developed Countries / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Health Behavior
  • Health Expenditures / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Life Style
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Mortality / trends*
  • Regression Analysis
  • Sex Distribution
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Young Adult