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An economic classification of “health need”

  • Ruth F.G. Williams
  • D.P. Doessel

Purpose – Multiple connotations and conceptions of health need are currently in use. The purpose of this paper is to specify some important distinctions regarding this confusing multiplicity in a taxonomic fashion relevant to the economic problems that arise in addressing health need. Classification is possible with the relevant concepts in conventional economic theory. The classification applies wherever economic considerations bear upon health need. Design/methodology/approach – Initially, some seminal economic ideas about need are presented from Marshall, Pauly, Banfield, Jevons, Deaton and Meullbauer, and Georgescu-Roegen. Recent discussions of basic needs by Sen and Nussbaum concerning “capabilities” and human flourishing are also considered. Ruger's subsequent developments of these concepts specifically for health are noted. The paper then specifies and classifies the current economic connotations of “health need” by applying positive economic analysis and the framework of economic theory. In particular, the conventional theories of consumer demand and production supply are useful. Geometric tools of analysis along with illustrations from the health sector specify various distinctions and classifications. Findings – The uses of the generic term “need” relate to quite different economic problems. The findings show how diverse interpretations of need can be specified. Originality/value – Distinctions over health need are important since, in many Western countries, need is one of the “pillars” of the Welfare State. Effective policy requires sound conceptions and measurements of need. Given the relevance of economics for approaching competing resource uses in the face of health need, measurement of need is improved with taxonomy, and confusion reduced.

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Article provided by Emerald Group Publishing in its journal International Journal of Social Economics.

Volume (Year): 38 (2011)
Issue (Month): 3 (February)
Pages: 291-309

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Handle: RePEc:eme:ijsepp:v:38:y:2011:i:3:p:291-309
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  1. Ruth F. G. Williams & D. P. Doessel, 2007. "The Role of Knowledge Accumulation in Health and Longevity: The Puzzling Case of Suicide," Prometheus, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 25(3), pages 283-303.
  2. Culyer, A. J. & Wagstaff, Adam, 1993. "Equity and equality in health and health care," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 12(4), pages 431-457, December.
  3. Deaton,Angus & Muellbauer,John, 1980. "Economics and Consumer Behavior," Cambridge Books, Cambridge University Press, number 9780521296762.
  4. Wagstaff, Adam & van Doorslaer, Eddy & Paci, Pierella, 1991. "On the measurement of horizontal inequity in the delivery of health care," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 10(2), pages 169-205, July.
  5. Rice, Thomas, 1992. "An alternative framework for evaluating welfare losses in the health care market," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 11(1), pages 85-92, May.
  6. Michael Grossman, 1972. "The Demand for Health: A Theoretical and Empirical Investigation," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number gros72-1.
  7. Olsen, Jan Abel, 1993. "But health can still be a necessity ..," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 12(2), pages 187-191, July.
  8. Samuel Bowles, 1998. "Endogenous Preferences: The Cultural Consequences of Markets and Other Economic Institutions," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 36(1), pages 75-111, March.
  9. Mitchell, Deborah & Harding, Ann & Gruen, Fred, 1994. "Targeting Welfare," The Economic Record, The Economic Society of Australia, vol. 70(210), pages 315-40, September.
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