Category Archives: Health economics

Industry ties to medical expert panels

Medical concept -  stethoscope over the dollar billsControversy has surrounded the latest publication of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) of mental health disorders, in part because of concerns that the guideline pathologizes many behaviors that some people might consider normal, theoretically increasing the opportunity to prescribe pharmaceuticals for non-pathological behavior. But beyond the field of psychiatry, there are increasing concerns that “medicalization” may be doing more harm than good for patients (especially where tests and therapies have marginal benefit but potentially great risks), and may be influenced by profit motives and desires to define disease so expansively as to intrude on normal living to a stifling degree. A recent comprehensive study of medical panels’ decisions about expanding disease definitions shed some light on this debate, and revealed some concerning findings…

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The data beneath The Farm Bill

imagesNumerous commentaries have debated aspects of the $100 billion dollar U.S. Farm Bill—the legislation that funds farm subsidies, food stamps, crop insurance policies, and potentially some international food aid as well. But what’s the impact of these various programs? We took a look at the data on Farm Bill payments and effects over the last several years…

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The impact of food price spikes

2013-05-24 06.53.06 amAs we discussed in a previous post, several causes led to a massive spike in food prices internationally in 2008 and again a few years later. The average world price of rice, for example, rose by 217% between 2006 and 2008. Classical theories have suggested that we shouldn’t worry about these spikes: that the high prices will lead to more production (attracting farmers to produce more, which will drive prices back down), people’s wages will adjust to costs of living, and people will be able to substitute for expensive items with other foods. But a new report tracking how the most-affected people have responded to the food spikes reveals that classical theories may be a bit out of touch…

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Introducing The Body Economic

Body economic UK jacketPoliticians have talked endlessly about deficits and finance during our ongoing economic crisis. But we’ve talked far less about achieving another major goal that is just as important, if not more so, than promoting stable financial markets: protecting our health and well-being during hard times and into the future. What policies are most effective in preserving our health during economic recessions—and can we afford them?

That question, it turns out, can be answered through data and careful research on recessions both past and present. My colleague David Stuckler and I are today releasing our peer-reviewed book, entitled The Body Economic, in which we boil down over a century of data from across the globe to answer the question of what policies actually improve both our economies and our public health during and after economic recessions.

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Alcohol use during the Great Recession

HEALTH Alcohol 074058There have been many theories and contradictory findings about how alcohol use changes during economic downturns. Will people drink less because they can’t afford it—a common refrain in economics journals? Or will the depression associated with unemployment lead to more binging? A recent article looking at alcohol use during the Great Recession provides an interesting, if unexpected, result.

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Gutting the research and development treaty

imagesFor several years, health advocates have tried to assemble a treaty to fund research and development on neglected diseases that predominate in poor countries. This week, US and EU negotiators gutted that goal.
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Is there a food stamp-obesity paradox?

Ever since the observation in 1995 that hunger and obesity co-existed among children, a flurry of research has sought to answer the question of whether those who are more “food insecure” are most likely to also become (ironically) obese. Many studies have now correlated participation in food stamp programs (since renamed the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP) with obesity. One in seven Americans are now on food stamps after the recession, so this finding may have important implications for the overall obesity epidemic. It may also seem like obvious selection bias to correlate food stamps to obesity; those who are poor are more likely to eat calorie-dense and cheap food, becoming both stuffed and starved. But a new study comparing food stamp users to eligible non-users found that the stamp users were disproportionately more likely to eat unhealthy foods. What’s going on here, and what should we do about it, if anything?

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A global safety net? New ideas in social protection

A key observation from the ongoing global economic recession is that countries once thought to be highly financially stable are now teetering on the edge of long-term ruin.

While it is now widely accepted that the decisions of a major investment banks precipitated the crisis, they are not the ones who appear to be paying for it; the bailouts to bankers have now accompanied by massive spending cuts on public safety nets, ranging from hospital services to retirement pensions. Some international financial gurus have called for a new Marshall Plan—not just to provide a temporary infusion of aid to suffering countries, but to rethink aid strategies to prepare for the next crisis. Can we create a “safety net” that spans across borders to help countries caught in international market turmoil, just as we have domestic safety nets?

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How many lives could be saved by closing offshore tax havens?

A new study by the former chief economist at McKinsey has revealed that at least $21 trillion—more than the size of the entire American economy—has been hidden by the super-rich in offshore tax havens. Upon reading this report, we asked a simple question: if the people hiding this money were forced to keep it in their home countries, and pay their usual taxes, how many lives could be saved? If the tax revenues from these funds were distributed like all other tax dollars among the various ministries of education and defense and so forth, including the ministries for public health and medical services, what public health programs could be paid for for? How many lives could be saved if the super-rich paid their taxes just like you and I do?

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U.S. versus European healthcare costs: the data

We’ve all heard that U.S. healthcare services cost more and deliver less “value for the money” than European systems—i.e., less mortality benefits for the amount of money spent. Is this true? And where does the price difference come from? David Squires at The Commonwealth Fund recently collected data to compare healthcare spending, supply, utilization, prices, and quality in thirteen (mostly European) industrialized countries, and sought the answer to the question: why is U.S. healthcare spending so high? And does the U.S. healthcare system really deliver less quality for the dollar than the healthcare systems of other industrialized nations?

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