Background A response to the challenge of high-cost treatments in health care has been economic evaluation. Cost-effectiveness analysis presented as cost per quality-adjusted life-years gained has been controversial, raising heated support and opposition. Objectives To assess the impact of economic evaluation in decisions on what to fund in four European countries and discuss the implications of our findings. Methods We used a protocol to review the key features of the application of economic evaluation in reimbursement decision making in England, Germany, the Netherlands, and Sweden, reporting country-specific highlights. Results Although the institutions and processes vary by country, health economic evaluation has had limited impact on restricting access of controversial high-cost drugs. Even in those countries that have gone the furthest, ways have been found to avoid refusing to fund high-cost drugs for particular diseases including cancer, multiple sclerosis, and orphan diseases. Economic evaluation may, however, have helped some countries to negotiate price reductions for some drugs. It has also extended to the discussion of clinical effectiveness to include cost. Conclusions The differences in approaches but similarities in outcomes suggest that health economic evaluation be viewed largely as rhetoric (in D.N. McCloskey's terms in The Rhetoric of Economics, 1985). This is not to imply that economics had no impact: rather that it usually contributed to the discourse in ways that differed by country. The reasons for this no doubt vary by perspective, from political science to ethics. Economic evaluation may have less to do with rationing or denial of medical treatments than to do with expanding the discourse used to discuss such issues.

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Value in Health
Institute for Medical Technology Assessment (iMTA)

Franken, M., Heintz, P., Gerber-Grote, A. (Andreas), & Raftery, J. (James). (2016). Health Economics as Rhetoric: The Limited Impact of Health Economics on Funding Decisions in Four European Countries. Value in Health, 19(8), 951–956. doi:10.1016/j.jval.2016.08.001