Vol. 24, Issue 1: Fall 2016

Healthcare: California’s Next Investments

Kevin Dinh

Healthcare, the improvement of health by diagnosing and preventing diseases and illnesses, is a wide-ranging topic that encompasses issues such as healthcare access, policy, maintenance, regulation, and administration. Contentious debates may arise over the best healthcare systems and allotment of financial resources for the general population. As costs seem to be on the rise, is healthcare a wise investment in the first place? In a study conducted by Dr. Timothy T. Brown, a health economist with the School of Public Health at UC Berkeley, the economic benefits of an investment in healthcare were investigated by measuring the average return on overall spending by public health departments of Californian counties. From his analysis, California’s county health programs yielded positive results, where high returns per dollar spent were seen across the board. According to Dr. Brown, innovations in healthcare, such as more accessible bundles of services and patient interventions, will have a big impact, rivaling to those in the medical field, where the best success in increasing the quality of healthcare could be laying on how these two disciplines complement one another.

The basic question being addressed was to find how valuable the entire county public health system is in terms of the health that it produces. Dr. Brown’s research used 4 sets of criteria to determine the return on investment as a whole: a complete set of health outcomes that can be linked to public health expenditures, the time between expenditures and outcomes, the level of spending to promote or produce such outcomes, and the cost of each outcome. His review of the current medical and health literature revealed that, although medicine has brought new innovations to patient care, it focuses mostly on treating the disease at hand and have not had the same impact as county public health spending. At current funding levels, each annual spending cycle per public health department results in about 27,000 saved lives attributable to public health, spanning over a decade. Public health activity in California is shown to first improve the general health of the population prior to decreasing mortality, where such positive health changes and effects are still seen after a decade of enactment. A single year of public health expenditures by a Californian county was found to improve the health status of the county’s population over a period of four years to over 200,000 people.

As the numbers of a high return on investment into public health show, it goes without saying that an increase in public health funding is valuable to everyone. However, this study is not without various limitations--significantly the data is only focused on county departments of public health so funding from outside sources and agencies are not factored in. The general health status of a population is also generated only for California alone. The biggest challenge will be one of funding as well, where it may be difficult for many policy makers to see the economic value of public health activities. Yet, Dr. Brown’s research emphasizes that though there is a need for more attention towards the most cost-effective public health services, there is a range of return on investment that is favorable when compared to just medical care. Fundamentally, public health can prevent poor health for a population over time and provides more opportunity for long-term human health as a whole. Ultimately, Dr. Brown hopes that these results will lower disease prevalence and lead to greater overall health.

About the Author

Kevin Dinh is a third year undergraduate student majoring in Integrative Biology. Combining his love and passion for the world of sports and strong fascination of the human anatomy, he hopes to one day pursue a career in sports medicine or physical therapy.