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Posted: December 10th, 2022

What are the ethical implications of prioritizing resource allocation in healthcare

What are the ethical implications of prioritizing resource allocation in healthcare, and how do different healthcare systems around the world address the challenges of balancing equitable access to care with limited resources?What are the ethical implications of prioritizing resource allocation in healthcare, and how do different healthcare systems around the world address the challenges of balancing equitable access to care with limited resources?

The ethical implications of prioritizing resource allocation in healthcare and how different healthcare systems address balancing equitable access to care with limited resources is a complex issue with reasonable arguments on multiple sides. At the core is ensuring all people, regardless of means, can access necessary medical care to preserve life and health (World Health Organization, 2016). However, finite resources mean prioritization is unavoidable and difficult value judgments must be made (Daniels, 2017).
Most developed nations have universal healthcare systems aiming to provide basic coverage for all citizens through some combination of public funds and private insurance (OECD, 2021). However, approaches vary in prioritizing treatments. The United Kingdom’s National Health Service explicitly considers cost-effectiveness, quality of life improvements, and broader societal benefits in funding decisions to maximize health gains from limited budgets (Rawlins & Culyer, 2004). In contrast, Canada’s system does not have an explicit process for treatment denials based on cost, though individual provinces may consider cost more informally (Romanow, 2002).
The United States relies primarily on a private insurance system but also has public programs like Medicare and Medicaid. However, an estimated 28 million Americans still lack health insurance, impacting their ability to access care (Berchick et al., 2019). For those insured, coverage and out-of-pocket costs vary greatly based on employment and income. The U.S. also spends far more per capita on healthcare than peer nations without achieving better health outcomes, suggesting significant waste and lack of cost control (Papanicolas et al., 2018).
Regardless of system structure, all nations must determine what constitutes “necessary” care worthy of public support versus optional or experimental treatments. Fair and consistent processes are needed to make difficult choices about prioritizing and potentially denying certain interventions or treatments for some patients in the name of maximizing the greater good (Daniels, 2017). Public participation and transparency in these decisions can help strengthen their perceived legitimacy and ethical foundations (Rawlins & Culyer, 2004). By carefully considering both individual rights and social welfare, nations can work to provide healthcare access for all within the constraints of limited resources.
Berchick, E. R., Barnett, J. C., & Upton, R. D. (2019). Health insurance coverage in the United States: 2018. Retrieved from https://www.census.gov/library/publications/2019/demo/p60-267.html
Daniels, N. (2017). Justice, health, and healthcare. American Journal of Bioethics, 17(7), W1-W14. https://doi.org/10.1080/15265161.2017.1329484
OECD. (2021). Health at a Glance 2021: OECD Indicators. OECD Publishing. https://doi.org/10.1787/ae3016b9-en
Papanicolas, I., Woskie, L. R., & Jha, A. K. (2018). Health care spending in the United States and other high-income countries. JAMA, 319(10), 1024–1039. https://doi.org/10.1001/jama.2018.1150
Rawlins, M. D., & Culyer, A. J. (2004). National Institute for Clinical Excellence and its value judgments. BMJ, 329(7459), 224–227. https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.329.7459.224
Romanow, R. J. (2002). Building on values: The future of health care in Canada: Commission on the future of health care in Canada. Ottawa: Commission on the Future of Health Care in Canada.
World Health Organization. (2016). Constitution of the World Health Organization. Retrieved from https://www.who.int/about/governance/constitution

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