IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this article

Rationing of health care: is there an economic rationality to it?


  • Peter Zweifel



The point of departure of this Editorial is the fact that we all are engaged in self-rationing in our everyday lives. We would like to spend more money on all sorts of nice things and devote more time to our cherished activities. Imposed rationing is characteristic of wartime governments, who seek to prevent the rich from gobbling up the resources left by the army. Since the publication in 1987 of David Callahan’s Setting Limits: Medical Goals in an Aging Society (Callahan, Setting limits: medical goals in an aging society, Simon & Schuster, New York, 1987 ), rationing of health care has become a widely debated issue (the Internet is full of pertinent entries). While rationing has also been addressed by health economists, there are three puzzling observations. First, Callahan (Callahan, Setting limits: medical goals in an aging society, Simon & Schuster, New York, 1987 ) wrote for an American audience whereas rationing was introduced by the British National Health Service (NHS) well before 1987, with little debate. Second, the economic theory of rationing had been laid out by James Tobin [Ectrica 20(4): 521–533, 1952 ] as early as 1952—but health economists seem to have neglected his groundwork when writing about rationing. Third, they accept government-imposed rationing as inevitable in the case of health care, as though the self-rationing alternative was unavailable. An attempt is made here to provide rational explanations for these puzzles. Copyright Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2015

Suggested Citation

  • Peter Zweifel, 2015. "Rationing of health care: is there an economic rationality to it?," The European Journal of Health Economics, Springer;Deutsche Gesellschaft für Gesundheitsökonomie (DGGÖ), vol. 16(8), pages 797-800, November.
  • Handle: RePEc:spr:eujhec:v:16:y:2015:i:8:p:797-800
    DOI: 10.1007/s10198-015-0689-6

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    Download Restriction: Access to full text is restricted to subscribers.

    As the access to this document is restricted, you may want to search for a different version of it.

    References listed on IDEAS

    1. repec:ohe:monogr:000443 is not listed on IDEAS
    2. Friedrich Breyer, 2013. "Implicit Versus Explicit Rationing of Health Services," ifo DICE Report, ifo Institute - Leibniz Institute for Economic Research at the University of Munich, vol. 11(1), pages 07-15, 04.
    3. Felder, Stefan & Werblow, Andreas & Zweifel, Peter, 2010. "Do red herrings swim in circles? Controlling for the endogeneity of time to death," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 29(2), pages 205-212, March.
    4. Joseph P. Newhouse, 1992. "Medical Care Costs: How Much Welfare Loss?," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 6(3), pages 3-21, Summer.
    5. Manning, Willard G. & Marquis, M. Susan, 1996. "Health insurance: The tradeoff between risk pooling and moral hazard," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 15(5), pages 609-639, October.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)


    Citations are extracted by the CitEc Project, subscribe to its RSS feed for this item.

    Cited by:

    1. repec:kap:ijhcfe:v:17:y:2017:i:2:d:10.1007_s10754-016-9209-1 is not listed on IDEAS

    More about this item


    Access and download statistics


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:spr:eujhec:v:16:y:2015:i:8:p:797-800. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Sonal Shukla) or (Rebekah McClure). General contact details of provider: .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If CitEc recognized a reference but did not link an item in RePEc to it, you can help with this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.