Valuing health outcomes: developing better defaults based on health opportunity costs

Expert Rev Pharmacoecon Outcomes Res. 2021 Aug;21(4):729-736. doi: 10.1080/14737167.2020.1812387. Epub 2020 Sep 20.


Background: Current health economic analysis guidelines emphasize the importance of using nationally appropriate cost and valuation inputs. However, some countries lack national data, and some analyses focus on interventions with costs and benefits at regional or global scales.

Methods: Recognizing the need for better estimates of appropriate values for application at these levels than those used in the past, we characterize population-weighted dollar per disability-adjusted life year (DALY) averted by World Bank Income Level based on available national estimates of the marginal productivity of the healthcare system.

Results: The defaults suggested here reflect health opportunity costs across countries more consistent with existing evidence than those previously used or recommended. As countries change income levels and healthcare spending, and as additional or updated marginal productivity of healthcare expenditure estimates become available, we expect the defaults to change.

Conclusion: The best option for informing decisions around resource allocation in health care such that they improve health outcomes overall remains the use of time-appropriate country-specific estimates of the marginal productivity of the healthcare system. Instead of single, time-invariant defaults, health economists should seek to develop valuation inputs that better account for health opportunity costs and do so over time.

Keywords: Cost-effectiveness analysis; decision making; economic evaluation; health technology assessment; threshold; valuation input.

MeSH terms

  • Cost-Benefit Analysis
  • Delivery of Health Care / economics*
  • Health Care Costs / statistics & numerical data*
  • Health Expenditures / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Outcome Assessment, Health Care / methods*
  • Quality-Adjusted Life Years
  • Resource Allocation / economics