Is Equality the Right Public Policy Goal?



A new Health Policy Brief from Health Affairs and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation examines research on health disparities in the United States:

Researchers Erika Cheng and David Kindig found that life expectancy varies from county to county by as much as ten years or more...

In [another] study, the country was divided into race-county units, and the researchers found that the life expectancy of one subgroup of black males, which the authors identified as high-risk urban black males, was more than 20 years shorter than Asian females’ life expectancy.

The brief then asks:

What are the policy implications? The brief discusses what policies can be put in place to ameliorate preventable disparities...

But this runs counter to the normal approach that has dominated health policy research for some time, which is also the economic approach: That is to ask how many additional years of life are produced by spending a dollar on various policy alternatives. The economist’s answer is: we should spend money on various programs until the extra years of life gained per dollar spent are the same across all policy options. When that happens, we are maximizing the years of life gained for a given budget. Alternatively we are minimizing the cost of the extra life expectancy we produce.

If we maximize years of life saved per dollar of expenditure, we may not get more equality. We may get more inequality. I think I can say with some confidence that we definitely would not get absolute equality.

For more, please see my book, Priceless: Curing the Healthcare Crisis.

[Cross-posted at Psychology Today and John Goodman's Health Policy Blog]

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