Background. Unweighted summation or quality-adjusted life year (QALY) utilitarianism is the most common way to aggregate health benefits in a cost-effectiveness analysis. A key qualitative principle underlying QALY utilitarianism is separability: those individuals unaffected by a policy choice should not influence the policy choice. Separability also underlies several of the alternatives for QALY utilitarianism that have been proposed. Objectives. To test separability and to test whether the support for separability is affected by the framing of the choice questions. Methods. In 2 experiments, 345 student subjects (162 in the first experiment, and 183 in the second experiment) were asked to select 1 of 2 possible treatments, with each treatment resulting in a different distribution of health across individuals. The only aspect that varied across choice questions was the state of the patients whose health was unaffected by the act of choosing a policy. In each experiment, we used 2 frames. In the implicit frame, it was implied but not plainly expressed what outcomes the treatments had in common. In the explicit frame, common outcomes of the 2 treatments were directly stated. The 2 experiments differed in the way the explicit frame was presented (verbal v. numerical). Results. The support for separability was significantly greater in the explicit frame. The proportion of violations in the implicit frame was 44% in Experiment 1 and 31% in Experiment 2, while in the explicit frame, the proportion of violations was 28% in Experiment 1 and 8% in Experiment 2. Conclusions. Framing affected the support for separability, raising issues as to whether it is possible to achieve a canonical representation of social choices.

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Medical Decision Making: an international journal
Erasmus Research Institute of Management

Turpcu, A, Bleichrodt, H, Le, Q.A, & Doctor, J.N. (2012). How to aggregate health? Separability and the effect of framing. Medical Decision Making: an international journal, 32(2), 259–265. doi:10.1177/0272989X11418521