A cost-benefit analysis framework for preventive health interventions to aid decision-making in Australian governments

Health Res Policy Syst. 2021 Dec 19;19(1):147. doi: 10.1186/s12961-021-00796-w.


Background: Australian governments are increasingly mandating the use of cost-benefit analysis (CBA) to inform the efficient allocation of government resources. CBA is likely to be useful when evaluating preventive health interventions that are often cross-sectoral in nature and require Cabinet approval prior to implementation. This study outlines a CBA framework for the evaluation of preventive health interventions that balances the need for consistency with other agency guidelines whilst adhering to guidelines and conventions for health economic evaluations.

Methods: We analysed CBA and other evaluation guidance documents published by Australian federal and New South Wales (NSW) government departments. Data extraction compared the recommendations made by different agencies and the impact on the analysis of preventive health interventions. The framework specifies a reference case and sensitivity analyses based on the following considerations: (1) applied economic evaluation theory; (2) consistency between CBA across different government departments; (3) the ease of moving from a CBA to a more conventional cost-effectiveness/cost-utility analysis framework often used for health interventions; (4) the practicalities of application; and (5) the needs of end users being both Cabinet decision-makers and health policy-makers.

Results: Nine documents provided CBA or relevant economic evaluation guidance. There were differences in terminology and areas of agreement and disagreement between the guidelines. Disagreement between guidelines involved (1) the community included in the societal perspective; (2) the number of options that should be appraised in ex ante analyses; (3) the appropriate time horizon for interventions with longer economic lives; (4) the theoretical basis and value of the discount rate; (5) parameter values for variables such as the value of a statistical life; and (6) the summary measure for decision-making.

Conclusions: This paper addresses some of the methodological challenges that have hindered the use of CBA in prevention by outlining a framework that is consistent with treasury department guidelines whilst considering the unique features of prevention policies. The effective use and implementation of a preventive health CBA framework is likely to require considerable investment of time and resources from state and federal government departments of health and treasury but has the potential to improve decision-making related to preventive health policies and programmes.

Keywords: Cost–benefit analysis; Decision-making; Health policy; Preventive health.

MeSH terms

  • Australia
  • Cost-Benefit Analysis
  • Government*
  • Health Policy*
  • Humans
  • Preventive Health Services