Understanding the Economics of Public Health

At all levels of government, public health is a primary concern as policymakers seek to balance the costs of programs with the outcomes. Achieving an acceptable return on public investment requires professionals who can bridge the gap between economics and public health policy.

Total healthcare spending for direct medical interventions in the United States in 2020 amounted to 4.1 trillion dollars, increasing to 20% of the gross domestic product from 18% the previous year, with public sources paying for nearly 50% of the total.

The COVID-19 pandemic put even more financial pressure on U.S. public health services, pushing the demand for effective economic management to the forefront, according to Crown Agents, a global consultant in public service initiatives.

“Effective public financial management (PFM) ensures that scarce resources have maximum impact and are deployed where they are needed most,” it notes.

What Are the Economics of Public Health Policy Changing?

Those scarce resources, which once funded only direct mental and physical health interventions, are now spread across a much wider range of economic policies, including programs aimed at behaviors that affect health and social, economic and environmental factors, notes the Sycamore Institute.

“By affecting the drivers of health, public policies that do not initially appear health-related can have a significant health impact,” according to Tennessee’s public policy research institute. It lists five economic policy areas that affect public health:

  • Regulating public projects such as highway improvements to create opportunities to get health care
  • Adopting laws that improve and protect air and water quality
  • Mandating behaviors that protect health, such as seatbelt usage and drunken-driving enforcement
  • Creating and funding programs that directly support public health, such as food and housing assistance
  • Providing incentives to encourage the public to make sensible decisions about their health, among them college scholarships and disincentives to engage in unhealthy behavior

“Increasingly, public health advocates are looking beyond the traditional health sector to explore how changes in transportation, urban planning, housing, and other ‘non-health policies’ may also play a key role,” according to research published in Public Health Post.

What Are Decision-Making Factors in Public Health Policy?

Evaluating the impact of public health policy outcomes reveals how well they achieved their intended goals. Applying financial measures to those evaluations determines the return on public investment. “Economic evaluation provides an additional element of understanding the cost factors of an intervention,” notes Measure Evaluation. A public health consultant assists governments and conducts economic evaluations such as cost analysis, cost-effectiveness, cost-utility and cost-development analyses to determine resource allocation. However, this professional also notes considerations that go beyond economics, such as:

  • Equity and social justice for reaching underserved populations
  • Scale the impact of public investments aiming to reach larger populations
  • Feasibility and acceptability, which typically do not account for economic measures
  • Political considerations governed by elected officials

Measure Evaluation warns that “It would be naïve to assume that the results of economic evaluations are the only criteria that influence [public health policy] decisions.”

What’s the Best Way to Prepare for a Career in Healthcare?

Graduates of the Master of Business Administration (MBA) with a concentration in Healthcare Economics and Management are well equipped for roles that require understanding the economics of healthcare and expertise in making financially sound decisions.

The program offered online by William Paterson University (WP) prepares graduates for leadership and senior management roles through coursework that develops understanding and expertise in:

  • Financial healthcare management
  • Economics, psychology, sociology and statistics in decision-making contexts
  • Leadership development, including ethics and change management
  • Marketing of healthcare products and services

Ideal for working professionals, participants in the WP AACSB-accredited online program can tailor their capstone to support their career objectives in the healthcare management sector.

Learn more about William Paterson University’s online MBA in Healthcare Economics and Management program.

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