Health economics

Juan Pablo Cuesta, Swarnali Ahmed Hannan, 12 August 2021

Covid-19 has had a staggering adverse impact on lives and livelihoods, disproportionately affecting the poor and the vulnerable. To shed light on possible scarring effects, this column studies the effect of five past pandemics on output, unemployment, poverty, and inequality in the near and medium term. The findings reveal significant negative effects, although countries that provided relatively large fiscal support experienced limited output declines. Historically, increases in unemployment, poverty, and inequality were lower for countries with greater fiscal support and relatively stronger initial conditions, which included higher formality, family benefits, and health spending. 

Martin Ellison, Andrew Scott, David A. Sinclair, 11 August 2021

The majority of children born in high-income countries today can expect to live into old age, making ageing well an important priority. This column calculates that there are diminishing returns to further improvements in US life expectancy, and that it is more valuable to achieve a compression of morbidity. Treatments that delay ageing in ways that improve both health and life expectancy are especially valuable. Targeting ageing rather than single diseases exploit the synergies between health and lifespan, impacts several disease categories, and reduces competing risks. A virtuous circle in ageing leads to a rising value of delaying ageing the more we succeed in delaying ageing. 

Shuai Chen, Jan van Ours, 24 July 2021

Same-sex marriage was legalised in the Netherlands in 2001. This column shows that this legislation improved the mental health of both married and non-married sexual minorities. It is likely to have improved societal tolerance of same-sex partnerships, impacting the discrimination experienced by sexual minorities.

Dan Zeltzer, Liran Einav, Joseph Rashba, Ran Balicer, 21 July 2021

The use of telemedicine rose sharply under the COVID-19 pandemic, and in the coming years we are likely to see more healthcare delivery that mixes in-person with remote care. But concerns remain over whether remote care might reduce care quality or increase costs. This column examines the effect of increased access to telemedicine on care cost and outcomes using data from Israel around the country’s first lockdown in March and April 2020. Access to telemedicine results in a slight increase in primary care use and no significant increase in overall costs. There is no evidence for decreased accuracy or increased likelihood of adverse events.

David M. Cutler, Edward Glaeser, 12 July 2021

Over 90,000 Americans died from opioids in the year ending November 2020, bringing the death total since 1999 to over 850,000. This column argues that rather than rising demand for opioids for relief from pain or despair, it is supply-side innovations in the legal and illegal drug markets that have been the main driver of the opioid epidemic. The opioid cycle is a cautionary tale about how technological innovation can go terribly awry, and calls for more collective scepticism about innovations that allegedly cleanse pleasure-inducing drugs of their addictive properties as well as stronger penalties for companies that mislead the public about the risks of their products.

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