Health Economics Research: where social and medical sciences meet

How much financial benefit do we reap from biomedical research? What are the economic gains that result from introduction of new medications, changes to personal health behavior or reworking the Medicare and Medicaid health systems? These and other questions were discussed at a recent Capitol Hill briefing on health economics research co-sponsored by Academy Health, Research!America and other organizations. In an era of skyrocketing medical costs, this type of research can provide vital information to policy makers and health care providers to reign in the costs of healthcare without compromising the quality of patient care.

Health economics experts Mark McClellan, MD, PhD, of the Brookings Institute and a member of Research!America’s board of directors; Joseph Antos, PhD, of the American Enterprise Institute; Kevin Volpp, MD, PhD of the University of Pennsylvania; and Alvin Roth, PhD, of Stanford University were featured speakers.

McClellan, in addition to moderating the panel, spoke to the role of health economics research in maximizing the impact of biomedical research funding in terms of health benefits. Antos addressed the role of government funding for health economics research; without this support, he argued, officials would have less publically-available information to shape sound health and research policy. Volpp shared several examples of some health economics research that private companies have undertaken to reinforce healthy behaviors among employees. Not surprisingly, this research finds individuals are highly motivated by money and competition among their peers as reinforcements for making positive health changes like quitting smoking and losing weight. Roth shared how economic principles have changed medical markets and improved access to kidney transplants. The establishment of regional kidney exchange networks allows for living donors to be matched with recipients in another town. A New York Times article provides more details about an exchange network.

These examples are just a few of the ways health economics research is saving lives and reducing the cost of healthcare. This type of research is funded by the National Science Foundation, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The Hill briefing was also co-sponsored by American Economic Association, Consortium of Social Science Associations, Council of Professional Associations on Federal Statistics and Population Association of America.

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