Who should receive treatment?
An empirical enquiry into the relationship between societal views and preferences concerning healthcare priority setting
Introduction Policy makers increasingly need to prioritise between competing health technologies or patient populations. When aiming to align allocation decisions with societal preferences, knowledge and operationalisation of such preferences is indispensable. This study examines the distribution of three views on healthcare priority setting in the Netherlands, labelled "Equal right to healthcare", "Limits to healthcare", and "Effective and efficient healthcare", and their relationship with preferences in willingness to trade-off (WTT) exercises.
Methods A survey including four reimbursement scenarios was conducted in a representative sample of the adult population in the Netherlands (n = 261). Respondents were matched to one of the three views based on their agreement with 14 statements on principles for resource allocation. We tested for WTT differences between respondents with different views and applied logit regression models for examining the relationship between preferences and background characteristics, including views.
Results Nearly 65% of respondents held the view "Equal right to healthcare", followed by "Limits to healthcare" (22.5%), and "Effective and efficient healthcare" (7.1%). Most respondents (75.9%) expressed WTT in at least one scenario and preferred gains in quality of life over life expectancy, maximising gains over limiting inequality, treating children over elderly, and those with adversity over those with an unhealthy lifestyle. Various background characteristics, including the views, were associated with respondents' preferences.
Conclusions Most respondents held an egalitarian view on priority setting, yet the majority was willing to prioritise regardless of their view. Societal views and preferences concerning healthcare priority setting are related. However, respondents' views influence preferences differently in different reimbursement scenarios. As societal views and preferences are heterogeneous and may conflict, aligning allocation decisions with societal preferences remains challenging and any decision may be expected to receive opposition from some group in society.