To allocate money, people tend to use principles consistent with market norms; for example, one can use the efficiency principle, which maximizes benefits from limited resources. However, people are reluctant to make tradeoffs that are essential for efficiency when the allocation concerns "sacred values", such as life-and-death and quality-of-life issues associated with healthcare, as they cannot be measured by money. The United States faces an eminent need to curb healthcare spending -- but there is no obvious consensus among the public on how to allocate limited healthcare resources, or agreement about how to balance efficiency versus equality in such allocations.
Meng Li, Assistant Professor in the Department of Health and Behavioral Sciences, has secured a National Science Foundation grant to study "Money, Lives and Scarcity - How do People Allocate Healthcare Resources?" This research will untangle public opinions on healthcare allocation by examining how policy framing and perceived scarcity might influence allocation preference. Li's research, to be conducted between 2014 and 2017, will provide rich data on public opinions for critical health policy issues and will provide guidance to policymakers for how to design different allocation policies for different healthcare resources. Says Li of the research, "Recent research in behavioral economics and decision-making has shown that people's preferences are often unstable, contrary to what we might think. In fact, my past research has demonstrated that the public's age preferences in terms of who should receive limited healthcare resources can change drastically, depending on how the allocation policies are described. Now, I want to look at how policy framing affects people's preference between efficiency and equality, because efficiency and equality are often in conflict in healthcare allocation, and preference between them can have huge implications in the quality and outcomes of healthcare in the United States."