Ethical priority setting for universal health coverage: challenges in deciding upon fair distribution of health services
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Priority setting is inevitable on the path towards universal health coverage. All countries experience a gap between their population’s health needs and what is economically feasible for governments to provide. Can priority setting ever be fair and ethically acceptable? Fairness requires that unmet health needs be addressed, but in a fair order. Three criteria for priority setting are widely accepted among ethicists: cost-effectiveness, priority to the worse-off, and financial risk protection. Thus, a fair health system will expand coverage for cost-effective services and give extra priority to those benefiting the worse-off, whilst at the same time providing high financial risk protection. It is considered unacceptable to treat people differently according to their gender, race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, social status, or place of residence. Inequalities in health outcomes associated with such personal characteristics are therefore unfair and should be minimized. This commentary also discusses a third group of contested criteria, including rare diseases, small health benefits, age, and personal responsibility for health, subsequently rejecting them. In conclusion, countries need to agree on criteria and establish transparent and fair priority setting processes.
CitationBMC Medicine. 2016 May 11;14(1):75
SubjectEthicsPriority settingGlobal healthUniversal health coverageHealth technology assessmentHealth economics
Copyright Norheim 2016
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