Do expenditures on public health reduce preventable mortality in the long run? Evidence from the Canadian provinces

Soc Sci Med. 2024 Mar:345:116696. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2024.116696. Epub 2024 Feb 14.

Abstract

Background: Investments in public health - prevention of illnesses, and promotion, surveillance, and protection of population health - may improve population health, however, effects may only be observed over a long period of time.

Objective: To investigate the potential long-run relationship between expenditures on public health and avoidable mortality from preventable causes.

Methods: We focused on the country spending the most on public health in the OECD, Canada. We constructed a longitudinal dataset on mortality, health care expenditures and socio-demographic information covering years 1979-2017 for the ten Canadian provinces. We estimated error correction models for panel data to disentangle short-from long-run relationships between expenditures on public health and avoidable mortality from preventable causes. We further explored some specific causes of mortality to understand potential drivers. For comparison, we also estimated the short-run relationship between curative expenditures and avoidable mortality from treatable causes.

Results: We find evidence of a long-run relationship between expenditures on public health and preventable mortality, and no consistent short-run associations between these two variables. Findings suggest that a 1% increase in expenditures on public health could lead to 0.22% decrease in preventable mortality. Reductions in preventable mortality are greater for males (-0.29%) compared to females (-0.09%). These results are robust to different specifications. Reductions in some cancer and cardiovascular deaths are among the probable drivers of this overall decrease. By contrast, we do not find evidence of a consistent short-run relationship between curative expenditures and treatable mortality, except for males.

Conclusion: This study supports the argument that expenditures on public health reap health benefits primarily in the long run, which, in this case, represents a reduction in avoidable mortality from preventable causes. Reducing public health expenditures on the premise that they have no immediate measurable benefits might thus harm population health outcomes in the long run.

Keywords: Avoidable mortality; Canada; Error correction models; Health expenditures; Longitudinal study; Public health.

MeSH terms

  • Canada / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Health Expenditures*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mortality
  • Public Health*